Born on a small island in Scotland to a local girl and an Australian serviceman, raised in a working class, dysfunctional, often violent, itinerant household around the UK and Europe, O'Rourke rose to become the Secretary for Education for New Zealand, the Director of Education at the World Bank, an International Education Consultant and an author of six books.
It is a story of constant perseverance, reinvention and transformation as O'Rourke makes difficult choices and juggles her professional and personal responsibilities, especially mothering. The book outlines possibilities and ways of women living outside the conventions of what is usually expected by society, without stepping aside from acceptance, love and success.
As a memoir it is composed of vignettes of her life, short stories, photographs, newspaper cuttings, interviews, graphic novel excerpts and poems which, together, create a fascinating interlay. The narrative takes the reader from the birth of her first grandchild, back into the past (beginning with her search for her whakapapa) and delving deeper into her early years through to her formative years. She then traverses the important influences, relationships, hard lessons learned and joyful experiences in her professional, physical, personal and political life - before returning full circle to the present, where the lessons she has learned are laid bare.
Zigzags and Leapfrogs is a memoir of an unlikely life that embraces themes of persistence, luck, bravery, ambition, roaming, joy, disappointment and success.