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Friday, February 14, 2014

'Tigerfish' by David Metzenthen

Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Better in here, they think. Safe and sound. No shocks and no surprises. Twenty-one degrees Celsius all year round.

But outside Sky Point Mall, no one is safe.

Ryan Lanyon lives in a tough suburb.  His brother's a bouncer.  His best mate owns weapons.  Ariel works in a surf shop and has never seen the sea.  And the year that lies ahead is a minefield for them all.

A novel of confrontation, loyalty and love from David Metzenthen, the award-winning and bestselling author of Jarvis 24Boys of Blood and Bone and Black Water.

Templeton is a concrete jungle suburb in Melbourne, full of hard and loyal characters balancing on the poverty line and watching each other’s backs. Templeton is Ryan Lanyon’s stomping ground – he mostly hangs round Sky Point ‘Knifepoint’ Mall with his best friend, sucking up the summer holidays before school starts again and he has to go back to keeping his head down and avoiding a beating from the local bully boys.

Ryan’s dad knows every tradie in town, the ones who’d prefer payment in beer than cash-in-hand. His brother Slate has just got done with a forty-hours-a-week job at the Arcon pipe factory, and has started a bouncer gig that has his family quietly agonizing over the possibilities of king hits and glassings. 

And then Ryan meets Ariel at the Kealoah Surf Store. She’s a country girl whose family lost the farm and are now rebuilding in the big smoke.  She has never seen the sea, and her little sister is struggling to come out of her shell in the big, anonymous city. 

Ryan and his family welcome Ariel and her sister into their tightknit, have-your-back Templeton community, and together they start helping one another to find their feet and a place in this new world.

Tigerfish’ is the new young adult novel from award-winning Australian young adult author, David Metzenthen.

This book reminded me of a favourite TV show ‘Redfern Now’, a drama series that portrays contemporary stories about Indigenous Australians. And while ‘Tigerfish’ is not a story about Indigenous Australians, the connection to ‘Redfern Now’ came from setting – the TV show is set in the infamous and tight-knit Sydney suburb of Redfern. And the same way that that show explores the dynamics of community, however fractured and imperfect, ‘Tigerfish’ and Ryan’s observations of his rough and tumble suburb of Templeton and the city of Melbourne, similarly reminded me of those intertwined stories. 

I feel like Metzenthen’s setting is even more important as he explores a poor community rich in spirit and family/community bonds. It’s by no means a sunshiny, perfect suburb – Ryan is tormented at the local school, and the shopping centre has earned the nickname ‘Knifepoint Mall’ for a reason … but Metzenthen really asks readers not to take things at face value, to dig deeper and scrape away the grime. 

There are lots of beautiful metaphors and thematic explorations for young readers to think about in this book, but Metzenthen doesn’t write them cloyingly or like a prescribed English text. They come in the form of beautiful girl (the aptly named) Ariel; moved from the country with her family after they lost everything, and now working ironically in a surf shop; 

'I don't know anything about surfboards.' She puts her hands in those big goofy pockets and looks me straight in the eyes. 'I've never even been to the beach.' She shrugs, standing under the poster of a guy on a crystal wave. 'I've never even seen the ocean,' she adds. 'Not once. Not in my whole life.' She appears to want to know what I might have to say about that.
I laugh, zeroing in on her face, knowing that this is a freakin' special moment. Already I'm thinking about telling Evan about the new chick at Kealoah who tells me straight-up she's never seen the sea. And he'll like it the way I like it; because a fact like that is a rare thing in a place like this. I feel like kissing the toes of her no-name sneakers that are the colour of plain flour.

Metzenthen won the CBCA Award for Book of the Year: Older Readers in 2010 for ‘Jarvis 24’, which was also written from a young male first-person perspective. And no wonder, when Metzenthen captures it so well, and does so again with ‘Tigerfish’ – all Ryan’s bravado and heart, his secret worries and outward mockeries. He’s quite a tender voice in this rough suburb, and I loved that duality. 

If I had any complaints about ‘Tigerfish’, it’s probably that it is very slow going, and if not for Ryan’s authentic voice drawing me in I probably would have walked away for wondering where the actual story and igniting event was … but if you stick with ‘Tigerfish’ and Ryan, you will be rewarded with a gritty gorgeous story full of heart and anger.


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