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Book Review Flight of the Fantail.

Book review
Flight of the Fantail
Steph Matuku
Huia Publishers

I asked for it in the local bookshop. It was in the children’s section at the rear of the shop. The assistant found it for me. When I paid for it, the teller asked; do you want it gift wrapped? Clearly thinking I was buying it as a gift for my teenage child. When I said no and paid for it, he said enjoy. I didn’t say anything. I could have done a long ramble and said well, it’s written by a novelist in Taranaki who I follow on Twitter. And I am interested in writing so I want to see how you write a novel. But I didn’t. I was just happy to have bought it. So, I took the book home and looked at it carefully, read the back cover, looked at the copyright page, the dedication. The book was over 350 pages. I thought, wow, this is serious stuff. This is pro level. The whole book, it’s weight, it’s feel, it’s look shouted quality. I could tell there was love in the book. I read the first chapter. The writing was clear like the water in a pool in the Waitakeres. I asked the writer on Twitter; did you write it as you went or did you write it to a plot structure? She said she invented it as she wrote it and that this meant it there was a lot of editing involved. I could tell the writing had been polished over and over like a piece of pounamu. The back cover pointed to an action adventure involving a group of teenagers who get stuck outdoors after a really bad bus crash. Amid strange goings on, they have to survive on their own. It’s called YA or young adult fiction. For children 12 years to 18 years. I flicked through the pages. I often used to read books backwards but I don’t now. I have more manners. The book is not an ice-cream. I started reading it. At the end of chapter four, I got the title. This was a book involving death. The fantail, the piwakawaka, the harbinger, the omen, of impending death. The book was 91 short chapters. At chapter 13 the book moves up a gear into the sci-fi zone. Its genre writing, which I love. The corporation, the ugly face of capitalism, is revealed. It’s sitting on a secret, there in the zone where the children are marooned. There are alien forces at work. Up until then the story has been of the crash and its immediate aftermath. It’s a survivor story. There are crushes, jealousies, rivalries, remorse, young love and a lot of violence. Devin and Rocky. She has a crush on him. There’s Liam. Edele the girl who finds the spaceship in the side of the hill above the gorge. And the girl that catches the eel and cooks it over the fire. There’s the corporation which is coming into the zone where they are but for what purpose? There is Peter the cleaner who joins the search party and it’s all go. Kids die! The fantail that flits down among them; the flight of the fantail. There are characters everywhere. A whole phantasmagoria of teenage school kids. There’re themes of who’s in the group, whose out, sex, some weed. There’s a lot of action in the bush and in the rivers. It worlds in the NZ wilderness. Its local fiction. It’s made in New Zealand. It’s punchy, it’s playful, it’s endemic, it’s about children of Aotearoa. It’s about confidence, standing up for yourself, playing the odds, toughing it out. All things that young adults want and search for. Here they are brimming and bubbling from the pages like a hot pool. In a word it’s an aspirational book for young people and isn’t that what young adult fiction should be.


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