Saturday, 17 August 2019

Flight of the Fantail, by Steph Matuku.          Teen Fiction.

          In a remote New Zealand National Park, a bus crashes off the gravel road into a steep gorge:  inside are seniors from Kotuku High School, all set for camping until they hit the bottom of the gorge and the front of the bus is swept away by the deep, fast-moving river.  Very few survive the trauma, but some are washed up along the banks and manage to find each other:  Rocky Reweti, class babe who harbours ambitions to be an All Black, but with a leg so badly injured the dream must surely be no longer possible;  Devin, class loser, ‘Duh-Devin’, Devin who lives with her dad in a skanky old place and never, ever talks or even looks at anyone;  Eva, class lesbian and proud of it to the extent that she took over the school PA system to announce just that, to the fury of the gay principal, who had been locked out of his office;  Jahmin, class clown and long-time detention-companion of Eva – his parents are rich as, and work for the Seddon Corporation which has mining land somewhere around here;  surely they will be rescued soon.  Search and Rescue should be sending helicopters anytime now.
            But when?  Two of the number manage to get back to the remains of the bus, finding that new kid, Theo, on the way, lying dead with a cell phone smashed into his face.  WHAAAAAT????  Their search for food, clothes and equipment takes a worrying turn – who killed Theo?  And why?
            As they establish a very rough, makeshift camp, it seems that Duh-Devin is’nt stupid after all, for her loser dad taught her all sorts of practical skills which actually improve their situation, like lighting a fire, constructing a shelter to keep the rain off, catching an eel (she was amazed that she could!), and finding some edible plants which, whilst not exactly broccoli, plugged the gnawing hunger gap for a time. 
            But what about the strange pulsing they all feel – the headaches they  experience, and the dark fantasies that threaten to overcome them unless they physically hurt themselves to banish the nastiness:  there’s something badly amiss in this part of the forest, and it doesn’t take them long to find it.
            Ms Matuku has done a fine job here of combining fact, fantasy and Maori myths to weave a great story of friendship through adversity and heartache:  the terrible situation in which her characters find themselves is hardly real, but Rocky, Devin, Eva and Jahmin are great examples of today’s generation - resourceful, staunch, loving and brave.  Great stuff!  FIVE STARS.

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