Strength of character, Jenny Buist

Against the Tide
Fleur Beale,
HarperCollins (Tui), $12.95

A Time To Choose
Jacqui Sutton Beets,
HarperCollins (Tui), $14.95

At a time of high consciousness over whether the central characters of new teenage fiction are female or male it is encouraging to find one of each as the two main protagonists in Fleur Beale’s Against the Tide. David and Chrissie are an unlikely pair, even to themselves, and indeed are together only by accident, as they confront the potential dangers of an armed criminal and a tempestuous sea. This story explores to the full the range of contrasts implicit in the similarities and differences of the two young people. David comes from a conventional background, knowing he is well-loved, and consequently is a confident achiever at school and in life. However, faced with the need to rescue David’s family, threatened by man and by nature, it is Chrissie, having lost any possibility of parental love long ago, who displays the inner strength and range of survival skills that are needed. Together, David and Chrissie learn from each other to tolerate and then value difference.

This is a strong story, with sufficient action and impact to maintain a young reader’s interest while Fleur Beale works out the more subtle development of the main characters as the story unfolds. The characters are thoroughly believable; able to be matched up with reality in any New Zealand state secondary school. Chrissie, in particular, is a cleverly drawn portrait of the ‘loser’ from a fragmented background history of foster homes. So often, such a character is overdone or credited with a sudden transformation mid-story. It was refreshingly realistic that Chrissie takes her own path to a decision at the end, and the reader is left with a sense of relief but also a realistic concern for her future well-being.

Younger teenagers will welcome Against the Tide. It is about people they know and feelings they will recognise, with enough depth to get them thinking. Teachers of English in secondary schools would do well to consider this one when stretching the budget to cover new class sets for next year.

By contrast, A Time To Choose would more appropriately find a home on the library shelf. Maria Collett is unhappy in her wealthy home with her wealthy parents, who are too busy advancing themselves in their chosen careers to show Maria that they truly love her.

It is only when Maria’s life is endangered that her parents realise after all that she is precious to them, and abandon their respective important conferences to rush to her side. It is an unlikely story, bearing little relationship to the experiences of most families in which both parents are in the paid workforce. Few teenagers would relate the events or characters to their own lives, and many might find it difficult to really care what becomes of Maria. The characters are lightly drawn as are the situations in which they find themselves. The exception to this is the character of the grandmother, a nice portrayal of the wise woman who has turned her back on materialism and whose refreshing values help Maria to realise that there is more to life than being beautiful, talented, wealthy and unloved.

This book would provide a quick read for a young girl wanting a bit of escapism, and not looking for female role models. For all this, there are possibilities of good story-telling to be seen in this writer’s work, and it would be interesting to see what Jacqui Sutton Beets could make of a more gutsy plot and a set of real New Zealand characters.


Jenny Buist is head of English at Wellington East Girls’ College and a past President of the New Zealand Association for the Teaching of English.



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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Young adults
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