Saturday, 29 March 2008

Action, emotions and history for teens

Playing for Keeps Denis Martin, Puffin, 172 pages, paperback, $17.95.
ISBN 0-14-330305-3
Hideout Lorraine Orman, Longacre, 223 pages, paperback, $18.99
ISBN 1 877361 81 4
Sitting on the Fence: The Diary of Martin Daly, Christchurch, 1981 Bill Nagelkerke, Scholastic (My Story series), 215 pages, paperback, $16.99
ISBN 1 86943 748 0

Three Good Teen Novels

These three novels indicate the wide range now available for New Zealand teenage readers: an action thriller, an emotional crisis and a pivotal moment in history. The common factor is that all are well written.
A raw-edged fireball seared upwards from the marina, black smoke curling away from its centre.” Denis Martin has a flair for creating fast-moving thrillers where Kiwi teenagers find themselves unexpectedly confronted by menacing situations. Like his first novel Face It (2006), Playing For Keeps is set in the Marlborough Sounds, where young Rikkers enjoys fishing trips with Old Charlie. Rikkers is attracted to Pip, a new girl on his school bus, but her father’s unexplained death in a fishing boat explosion makes him aware of the danger that faces her. A drug deal gone wrong means that some very unpleasant people are seeking answers, and soon Rikkers and his friends face violence and the threat of death. The characters are well-sketched, there are nice touches of humour, the tension builds up well and the story fits comfortably into the familiar but suddenly threatening landscape. Give it to a male who thinks he doesn’t like reading.

“Big sister Roz knew what was best for her. Duh. How wrong can you be?” Hideout, Lorraine Orman’s latest novel for older teens, is a skilful first person narrative where impetuous actions lead to major upheavals and a heart-warming discovery. When Roz (15) realises that her mother’s boyfriend has begun making sexual approaches to her young sister Dawn, she moves fast. She sweeps Dawn away from their alcoholic mother, to hide out in an empty holiday house in Pukerua Bay, where Roz hopes that they can work out what to do next. Although Roz’s intentions are excellent, her plans soon unravel and she has to face up to hard realities. Help comes from an unexpected quarter and what at first appeared to be loose strands in the plot tie themselves up very convincingly.
Orman avoids clichés and makes it clear that there are no quick solutions to complex emotional problems; the support of family and friends prove vital. Landscape is important in this novel and so is the power of telling stories, so that Kapiti Island almost becomes a character. This one is for teens interested in people and how they feel.

“My big sister…was one of the people who proposed the idea, once the rally was over, to occupy Latimer Square and declare an independent No Tour State.” Sitting on the Fence by Bill Nagelkerke is a novel written as a diary of events in 1981, the turbulent year when both a pope and a US president were shot and the Springbok Rugby Tour divided our nation. Martin Daly’s Christchurch family is divided too. His rugby fanatic father thinks all protestors are communists; his older sister Sarah is strongly opposed to the tour and his mother has gone strangely quiet. Martin, observant but uncertain, is accused of sitting on the fence but a new school friend, Pete, a member of HART (Halt All Racist Tours), soon has him painting banners. Martin’s diary records his shift from observer to participant to committed protestor: “We can’t move back any further. We watch the blur of batons coming down.” There are fascinating details of events and attitudes in Christchurch and beyond, supplemented by photographs and posters. Martin’s diary may be fiction but it brings to life the year that changed New Zealand forever.

This review by Trevor Agnew was first published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 14th April 2007.

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