Book Review: Through My Eyes – Lyla, by Fleur Beale

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_lyla_through_my_eyesThirteen-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
ISBN 9781760113780

Book Review: Being Magdalene, by Fleur Beale

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_being_magdalene

Fleur Beale has done it again. Being Magdalene is destined to be as big a classic as the first book in the series about the Pilgrim children, I am not Esther. The other in the series, I am Rebecca, was a finalist in both the judge’s and the children’s choice lists in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults this year; and was Librarian’s Choice at the LIANZA Hell Children’s Book Awards.

Once again we enter the mind of a child who is a member of the fundamentalist sect The Children of the Faith. 12-year-old Magdalene is the second-youngest child of the Pilgrim family, and Zillah is her 8-year-old sister. Zillah is intelligent and rebellious, and while she understands what she must and must not do under the Rule they live by, Magdalene protects Zillah emotionally from the most severe of the cult’s rulings. They go to the ‘Faith’ school, and this is the only school Zillah has ever known. At this school, girls are taught only enough to make them good wives, which annoys the extremely intelligent Zillah.

Magdalene and Zillah have two older brothers, Abraham and Luke. Neither brother lives devotedly within the Rule, and Luke wants to go to university eventually to study religion; to understand the true history of how religion occurs. Abraham, meanwhile, wants to study electrical engineering, the benefits of which to the Faith community are initially doubted, but ultimately accepted – with the caveat that those who leave the faith to study must be married men.

The genius of this story is that on the surface of it, this is the story of faithful children being raised by an arbitrary rule created by a single man, Elder Stephen, who claims to speak for the Lord. Dig deeper, and it is a story of any people who live in oppression; or any teenager who lives within the rules their parents define, seemingly arbitrarily.These things are not the same to us, but to a teenager, what do you think?

Being Magdalene is an extremely tense read. Throughout the book, Magdalene is struggling in her mind between what she has been raised to believe is right and true; and the flaws she can see in that which the Elders are preaching. Her biggest concern is that her sister’s spirit will be squashed by the Rule, and that she will never grow into her potential. Magdalene goes to hospital early on in the book after making her hands bleed through digging a deep hole in the sand: she has no memory of this incident, but this is the first time we encounter worldly people and their opinions of the cult.

The doctors that see Magdalene are immediately suspicious of sexual misconduct, and violence within the cult: that’s what everybody thinks a cult is. This happens again and again, each time Magdalene has to interact with outsiders, they judge her before knowing her. Magdalene’s wounds are not on the surface however, they go much deeper than anybody realises until later in the book.

I urge you to read this brilliant book about how the human spirit can triumph against adversary, and how people can heal themselves better than they know. It is a universal tale, told with clarity and grace.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Being Magdalene
by Fleur Beale
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775537670

The blog to end our 20-day blog tour!

BookAwards_CC_900x320_v3_bannerWe have just finished a fabulous four-week tour around our authors inspirations, aims and achievements with their Children’s Choice finalist books. Now it is time for you to help your kids to vote their favourite book and author to win: they will be in to win a selection of finalists for themselves and their school if they do! Kids can select a winner in each category; the winning book of each category will win a prize at the Book Awards ceremony on Thursday 13 August. Thank you to all of the other blogs who have hosted these interviews!

Children's_choice_ya_fic_V2jpgDuring the first week of our tour, we heard from the Young Adult fiction finalists. We heard from Ella West (who, like any good super author, writes under a pseudonym) who dedicated Night Vision to Trish Brooking, because she still takes her out for lunch, after looking after her as Otago Education College Writer in Residence in 2010. We learned that Natalie King has not one but three pseudonyms, and was inspired by a dream of a lake to write the book Awakening, which begins with a mysterious necklace drawn from a lake. While Jill Harris sadly passed away in December, Makaro Press publisher Mary McCallum told us that she published her book The Red Suitcase because the opening chapter inside a Lancaster bomber had her riveted. I Am Rebecca was a return to a character that author Fleur Beale had written about before, in I am not Esther. She told us that the secret to her amazing characters is simply to “walk in the shoes of the character so that what happens to the character informs the story.” Our final YA author was Nelson-based Rachael Craw, who had two interviews in two different places! Spark was also inspired by a dream, which took 5 and a half years to come to fruition: she had to learn to write first! She was inspired by the power of DNA when she met her birth mother.

Children's_choice_picbook_v4Week two saw us jump back a few reading years to the Picture Book finalists. Scott Tulloch ran I am Not a Worm past fellow Children’s Choice finalist Juliette MacIver and her kids, and her oldest son Louis suggested what became the final line in the book: “I like butterflies.” Yvonne Morrison, author of Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite, told us she was about to leave NZ for a new job in Vietnam, living on a jungle island and managing a centre for endangered primates! Donovan Bixley covered two finalist books in one interview, Little Red and Junior Fiction book Dragon Knight: Fire! and he said that working with the same authors again and again means he can just do a messy scribble at the early stage of illustrating, and they will trust him to flesh it out!  Jo van Dam wrote doggy rhymes for her own children when they were young, and this became Doggy Ditties from A to Z. This is illustrated by Myles Lawford, who had to do a lot of research to make sure he illustrated each breed accurately. Peter Millet answered his own question about pets in the army with The Anzac Puppy, illustrated by Trish Bowles, who used to get in trouble at school for drawing: she now gets rewarded for it! Juliette MacIver likes to feature things in her books that children see in their everyday lives – “monkeys, old wooden galleons, pirates, for example, things that children encounter most days on their way to kindy or school.” Marmaduke Duck and the Wide Blue Seas was the third in the series by her and Sarah Davis, who reckons Juliette sometimes writes things in just to annoy her: ”52 marmosets leaped on board”?!? Seriously!!? Do you know how long it takes to draw 52 marmosets? Much longer than it takes to write the words “52 marmosets”, that’s for sure.”

Children's_choice_JUNIOR_V4We began the Junior Fiction category with an interview with Kyle Mewburn, author of Dragon Knight: Fire!, the first in a new series for the younger Junior Fiction age-group, and a finalist in both the children’s choice and the judges’ lists. Kyle doesn’t let his ideas float around “in case they escape, or some sneaky author steals one.”  The lead character in 1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, was inspired by her grandfather, Thomas McGee, who served as a mounted rifleman in WW1. Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Quake, and the character of Maddy popped into her head on the way home from work as a school librarian one day. “It was a bit crowded in there, so I sat down and wrote it out,” she said. Stacy Gregg‘s story The Island of Lost Horses began when she fell in love, with a picture of an Abaco Barb horse, the breed featured in this story; which is inspired by real events. Suzanne Main won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon award for the manuscript for How I Alienated My Grandma. This came with an offer of publication from Scholastic NZ, which enabled her to keep backing herself and her work to succeed.Children's_choice_NON_FIC_V3

The Non-fiction category tour began with the double-nominee (in judge’s and children’s choice lists) Māori Art for Kids, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke. Their aim was “to create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.” Poet Sarah Jane Barnett featured poetry title The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green and Myles Lawford on her blog The Red Room. Paula says, “When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried!” Maria Gill followed up her New Zealand Hall of Fame of 2011 with New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions – she says the toughest task was to decide who to leave out. Gorgeous illustration guide book A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris, was featured next on NZ Green Buttons. Sandra’s favourite thing to do when not drawing or managing her illustration agency, is tramping, unsurprisingly!  Philippa Werry was in last year’s awards with her great Anzac Day book, and this year she was a children’s choice finalist for Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, featured on Barbara Murison’s blog. Philippa focused this book on the day itself, as opposed to the treaty, and she enjoys doing cryptic crosswords while contemplating writing.

While this tour is ending, we will be carrying on our celebration of the book awards, promoting the judges’ list in the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the run-up to the awards announcement at Government House on 13 August 2015. There will be giveaways and reviews, and fun besides, so watch this space!


For the full links list for the Book Awards, please head here.

Other blogs involved were: NZ Booklovers blog, Booknotes Unbound, Around the BookshopsThrifty Gifty, My Best Friends are Books, NZ Green Buttons Blog and The Red Room.

Fleur Beale ONZM talks about the honour of a New Year’s Honour

pp_fleur_beale_10Fleur Beale ONZM is one of New Zealand’s top teen fiction writers, having published more than 40 books in New Zealand, with some also being published in the UK and USA. Fleur writes for teens across a wide range of reading ability and sub-genre − from motorsports to romance, dystopia to cults, she has covered teenage drama in most settings you can imagine, and some you never thought to. She has also written a good number of junior fiction titles. A short reading list of some of her top titles is below.

I am delighted to see her honoured for her work in literature in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list, and I thought I’d ask her a few questions about how it felt to have this recognition.

1. What was your first reaction when you received news of the honour?
The letter came in an official government house envelope with the crest and I thought it was an invitation to a posh book launch. When I read the letter it was quite a surprise but once it sank in I was thrilled.

2cv_slide_the_corner. What do you count as your biggest success in your writing career?
I started writing because I couldn’t find books that would engage the kids I was teaching. So, when I meet a kid who says he (it’s usually but not always a boy) has read one of my books and it’s the first book he’s ever finished, that feels like success.

3. What do you aim for with your writing for teenagers?
My first aim is to write something they’ll want to read and that will engage them. I think a book is powerful when it speaks to the reader about their own world and their own experience.

4. What is the best thing a teenager has ever said to you about your work?
Cool book, miss. I finished it.

Reading list: 

  • Slide the Corner (1992), Scholastic cv_I_am_not_esther
  • I am not Esther (1998) and I am Rebecca (2014), Random House
  • Juno of Taris (2008), Fierce September (2010) and The Heart of Danger (2012), Random House
  • The Transformation of Minna Hargreaves (2007), Random House
  • Speed Freak (2013), Random House

Fleur’s biography on the New Zealand Book Council website
– Fleur’s biography on the Random House website


Book Review: I am Rebecca, by Fleur Beale


Available now in bookstores nationwide. There will be a launch for this book on Sunday 21 September at 5pm, at The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie. 

I’ll be honest with you, Fleur Beale is one of my favourite kiwi YA authors. So any time she puts out a new book, I know it will be a worthwhile read, with a relatable teenage protagonist.

Fleur’s latest, I am Rebecca, is a follow-up to her bestselling book from 1998, I am not Esther. This time she tells the story from the inside looking out, of life within The Children of the Faith, and the expectations placed on herself and her peers at an early age.

The story begins as the Pilgrim family, along with the rest of the Whanganui branch of The Children, move south to Nelson, to join with another branch. The reason for the move is unclear, but the teenagers assume it has something to do with needing to match-make, as many of the young females are approaching marriageable age – 16. Rebecca has lived her entire life within her family group, though she and the other children had to attend a ‘worldly school’ in Whanganui. It is a frightening prospect, then, when she is sent with her twin, Rachel, to sell produce at a farmers’ market on Saturdays in Nelson. This interaction with people who live their lives in freedom proves an eye-opener for both sisters.

At no stage in the book does Beale let up on the tension, as we follow the sisters through impossible situations with regards to the Rule regarding every aspect of the Children of the Faith and how they manage themselves. The sisters must abase themselves each time they need to tell their Father something, for fear of earning hours of prayer. The tension builds, with death, bad marriage matches and new babies adding to it, until Rebecca begins to doubt, finally, the wisdom of her elders.

cv_I_am_not_estherOne of the factors that contributes to Rebecca’s doubt is the not-insignificant fact that she, along with the rest of the family group, are meant to act as though their older sister and brother are dead, as well as her “trouble-causing” cousin, who she is continually required to stand up for. I am not Esther tells the story of the siblings and cousin who left the group – which to the family unit means they must be treated as ‘dead’. Rebecca is determined, in her own way, to remember that they existed, but not without guilt over this.

While I won’t tell you what happens, I will say that Rebecca is a strong and admirable character. You feel that Beale really lets you into the mind of somebody who has grown up within a strict environment such as The Children of the Faith. Beale’s books have dealt with cults several times previously, but always from the outside looking in, so this is a refreshing point of view.

A worthwhile read – buy them as a pair, if you haven’t read I am not Esther since it was released in 1998! They have nice contrasting book jackets, to boot.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I am Rebecca
by Fleur Beale
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781775535492

Book Review: Speed Freak, by Fleur Beale

Speed Freak is a finalist in the Young Adults category of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

speed_freakArchie Barrington is fifteen years old, and is preparing for the biggest race tournament of his life. He has been a kart driver since the age of six, and has always loved the thrill of speeding down the track, the roar of the kart and the tension of the race itself. Archie has often dreamed of competing against the best of the best, on the finest racecourses – and this could be his chance.

The Challenge series is about to begin, and the prize is a race in Europe. Archie will be racing against old friends, new enemies, and everyone in between. Craig is desperate to win, and will do anything to beat the other teens. Silver has just returned to racing after a family tragedy, and is infuriating everyone with her wild driving and constant silence.

As the competition ensues, Archie must deal with pressure at home as well – his dad’s girlfriend and her seven-year-old son Felix are moving in. Felix is instantly fascinated by Archie’s karting tournament, and wants to learn to drive too…but his mother isn’t impressed by this at all, and she blames Archie for her son’s dangerous new interest.

While trying to keep an eye on Felix, Archie must push the limits of himself and his kart to beat Craig and come out on top. But when the rules are manipulated, will Archie be able to cope with the pressure on him? One thing is for certain, though – this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity won’t wait for him…Archie is going to have to chase after it at full speed.

Speed Freak is a Young Adult Finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards for 2014, and it is exactly the sort of book you might expect from award-winning author Fleur Beale; captivating, honest, and completely unique. This book will be one that I will constantly reread, and Beale certainly has my vote for the Book Awards this year.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Speed Freak
by Fleur Beale
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775534709