Book Review: Make a Hard Fist, by Tina Shaw

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_make_a_hard_fist‘Which one of you idiots sent this?’, is the opening line of Make a Hard Fist by New Zealand author Tina Shaw, a novel depicting the journey of a teenager named Lizzie Quinn on her personal road to empowerment.

Oh the teenage years. How thrillingly exciting and yet downright awful were those fledgling young adult years? As I read that first line, conjured by the ‘Lizzie Q, I love U’ note grasped in Lizzie’s hand, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach again, that nervy sick feeling – Does someone out there really fancy me, or am I the subject of some nasty joke? – I remember that feeling all too well when a boy I fancied rang me at home. It wasn’t the boy, it was the boy’s friend asking me if I wanted to ‘go round’ with the boy. And what did I do? I didn’t know if it was a joke or not, panicked and hung up the phone. So I could relate to that first line, it was a good start.

But from there it all turns sour and dangerous in this novel. Not everyone gets to have that innocent teenage excitement. Some sadly experience menace and physical aggression. Lizzie Quinn, a high school student who works after school in the local library to save money to buy her Uncle Harry’s sky-blue 1969 Volkswagen Beetle for herself, starts receiving one-line notes with her name on them, hand-delivered to her letterbox, and is then attacked and physically abused in her local park. How she deals with the attack is the core of her journey in this book.

This portrayal of violence is potentially controversial material as YA fiction. Some might say ‘Shouldn’t fiction for youths be sheltered from physical violence?’ To which I would respond, ‘Is it better to protect our youth from, or, prepare our youth for potentially violent situations?’

This novel is about one girl’s reaction to physical abuse, her loss in self-confidence, the ramifications it has on all those around her, and her positive, empowering choice of learning self-defence while making solid friends along the way.

What happens in the end? Well you’ll just have to read it right to the nail-biting end to find out, but I thoroughly recommend this novel, not only for those who have been or known a victim of attack, but all young people to get some first guidance in self-defence, whether needed in life, or, hopefully not. It is great writing that also comes with an informative guide at the back that could really help.

Perhaps Make a Hard Fist will help raise awareness of the potential benefits of self-defence programmes in today’s schools? I certainly hope so.

Reviewed by Penny M Geddis

Make a Hard Fist
by Tina Shaw
Published by OneTree House Ltd
ISBN: 9780473397067

Book Review: The Children’s Pond, by Tina Shaw

Available from booksellers nationwide. cv_the_childrens_pond

What a cover. A Beautiful still photograph of a gnarled old tree on a shady bank of the flowing Tongariro River. Conveying a sufficiently high degree of spookiness, mystery, some anxiety, plus of course that enigmatic title. As with many New Zealand novels, you know immediately, that the scenery, flora and fauna are going to be a significant part of the plot, the setting, and general atmosphere of the book.

The Children’s Pond is actually a real place, on the Tongariro River, at the National Trout Centre just outside the township of Turangi. Most of the places in this novel are real. It is in this pond, one day, that the body of a young woman is discovered. But that is only a small part of the story, and a lot happens before this particular alarming episode. Jessica is a woman in her late 30s who has moved from Auckland to Turangi to be close to her son, recently sentenced to a stint in Rangipo prison. She finds work at a fishing lodge and slowly sets about finding her feet, rebuilding her relationship with her son, and dealing with a sizeable amount of personal baggage. Being a small community it is not long before she finds herself drawn into the lives of those around her, in particular the family of the dead young woman. Slowly the threads of Jessica’s early life and the lives of those she gets to know in Turangi become more and more entangled, until Jessica herself is at the centre of the danger.

Even though the river cannot speak, it is probably the largest character in this tightly written and gripping novel. The river dominates the lives of those attached to the fishing lodge, both the tourists, the owners and the employees. All rivers have a life of their their own, a secret beauty, peace, tranquillity and enticements. Jessica is no less sucked in than the next person and finds her main solace in learning to fly fish. Now, if there was ever an advertisement to get someone out there learning to fly fish, then Ms Shaw is the perfect person to be writing about it. I am not at all surprised to see that this book is dedicated to Bruce – “who showed me the grace of fly fishing”. Her descriptions of fly fishing are glorious, for me the highlight of this book. I know nothing about fly fishing, and have never had any interest in it. But now? I would love to have a crack at it. She writes in such a way about the art of fly fishing that I get why people come from all over the world to fish for trout in New Zealand rivers. And mostly they fish for the sport of catching, not for the killing and eating.

Tina Shaw is not an author I have heard of. But I probably should have, and after reading this latest work, I am really keen to read more. A scroll through the list of publications on her small but perfectly formed website reveals a writer interested in all sorts of subjects and places and plot lines. She has written fiction for children, young adults and adults, as well as short stories, two anthologies and two works of non-fiction. Writing would appear to be her life.

This is a really good story, totally believable and well-written. There is a spooky and sinister overtone running through the whole story, short sentences, wonderful descriptions and visualisations, interesting characters, all with a back story. Everybody who has ever been to the Turangi area, even if just driving through, will already have a sense of the place. Reading this book makes you feel like you are still there, and may even make you want to go back.

by Felicity Murray

The Children’s Pond
by Tina Shaw
Published by Pointer Press
ISBN 9780473274023