Sunday, 8 March 2015

Canterbury Quake: book review

Canterbury Quake

Book Review by Trevor Agnew

Canterbury Quake: Christchurch 2010-11  Desna Wallace (2014) Scholastic NZ (My New Zealand Story series) 176 pages, paperback, NZ$18.50 ISBN 1-77543-182-4

It’s sort of funny because you walk in somewhere new …and suddenly you see everyone’s eyes roving round the buildings, looking in corners and looking for escape routes.”   
Anyone who went through Canterbury’s earthquakes will recognise this response; the experience has marked us all. Canterbury Quake is the fictional diary of 11-year old Maddy, and her account of the quakes and their effects rings true.

The diary begins with Maddy’s birthday on 13 August 2010 and concentrates on her main interests – singing, cup-cakes, books, and persuading her parents to buy her a cell-phone – but readers are always aware of the fate hanging over her. The 4th of September duly arrives and Maddy’s life changes forever. “The noise, the sound of things smashing and banging and breaking was deafening.”  

 Maddy’s writing style is convincingly that of a young girl. When Dad arranges temporary toilet facilities in the garden, she writes, “Ugh! Gross! Disgusting!” but she is also concerned by the effect of the constant aftershocks on her young brother. “He doesn’t scream any more when the ground shakes. Instead he just kind of whimpers, a bit like a dog in the pound, all lost and lonely. The stress affects everyone: her older sister hates travelling to another school, her mother is battling to have the roof repaired before winter, Aunt Beth’s home has been red-zoned and everyone is secretly scared all the time.  After her fourth major quake, Maddy erupts in rage, “I hate it here. No one outside Christchurch understands.”

While Maddy writes about the memorable public events like the Memorial Service, it is the telling personal details, like the coughing caused by liquefaction dust, that make her account so interesting.  Through all the crises Maddy presses doggedly on with her singing ambitions. Can she gain the confidence to sing at the Telethon?

It may be a shock to see 2010-11 as the period of an historical novel but Canterbury Quake will enable non-Cantabrians and children of the future to understand what just life was like in Canterbury in those tense years.

Trevor Agnew
Note: This book review first appeared in Your Weekend Magazine on 5 Apr 2014.

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