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Thirteen-year-old Lyla, her family and friends are trying to get back to normal life in Christchurch after the terrifying September 2010 earthquake that shook their beautiful city in the middle of the night. Buildings were damaged but importantly, everyone is ok. Life is starting to return to some semblance of normality, despite the repeated aftershocks. Then, 22 February 2011, the big one hits.
Through My Eyes: Natural Disaster Zone is a powerful fiction series from Allen & Unwin about children living in contemporary natural disaster zones. Their stories range from war-torn Kashmir to the cyclone-ravaged Philippines. And now we have our very own New Zealand addition, written by the wonderfully talented Fleur Beale (of the I am Not Esther and the Juno series). Lyla is the story of a young girl, her family, and friends coping with life after the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Although this is fiction, it is most definitely a New Zealand story. From the slang to the touches of Māoritanga, to the Student Army and the broken spires of the Christchurch Cathedral, the story is rooted firmly in reality. I am not from Christchurch myself and only experienced the terrible 6.3 quake from afar, but my experience of living in Wellington through the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake gave me a true appreciation for Beale’s realistic depiction of the terror such an event creates. She also accurately captures the ongoing exhaustion of living with aftershocks: ‘But I was sick of being resilient. In my opinion, the resilient-sayers should try living here in Christchurch, City of Shaky Ground. … It’s February now and you’ve been shaking us for five months. Enough already!’ The book deals compassionately with the issue of post-traumatic stress and the ongoing mental health challenges this brings. Lyla puts up a very brave front but the constant state of hypervigilance takes its toll.
For some readers, this book may be all too real and not something they want to delve into. But for those who did not live the experience, Lyla is a fantastic and moving insight into the life of an extremely resilient (yes, I said it), albeit fictional, young woman. This is another compassionate, engrossing read from one of New Zealand’s best young people’s writers.
Review by Tiffany Matsis
Through My Eyes – Lyla
by Fleur Beale
Published by Allen & Unwin Australia