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Fierce September, Fleur Beale

May 28, 2011

Fierce September Book blurb

“The stunning sequel to Juno of Taris, shortlisted for the 2009 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

Juno and the Taris inhabitants have to leave their dying island and go Outside.  The young people are entranced despite the hate campaign against them – they love the fashions, the technologies and, best of all for Juno, the freedom from extreme control.  But, only days after the group arrives, a pandemic hits that has drastic consequences for Juno and her people.

Juno is shocked to find the island held more secrets than any of them knew.  She wants to bury her head, ignore what she’s discovered and forge ahead to find her own place in this new world.  But Juno finds she can’t stay hidden in the background when danger threatens the people of Taris.  It will take courage and determination to save them.

Fierce September features a ground breaking new cross-media technique – at the end of each chapter readers are referred to online blogs featuring additional conversations and commentary from characters in the novel.

Fleur Beale is the author of Juno of Taris among more than 30 other award-winning books.  Fleur has won the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book twice, with Slide the Corner and I am not Esther, and the Esther Glen Award for Juno of Taris in the 2009 LIANZA Children’s Book Awards.'”

[Back cover, Fleur Beale (2010) Fierce September. Random House: Auckland.]

Fierce September First Page

“01

THE COMING OF OUTSIDERS

‘IF THERE IS A CHOICE, Juno, you must know – we are going to stay,’ my father said.

I lifted my little sister onto her chair. ‘Eat your breakfast, Hera,’ I said.  I ignored Dad’s words.  There would be no choice.  Taris was dying; the dome that had protected our island home for all the fourteen years of my life, and for years before that, was failing.

‘Juno?’ Mother spoke harshly. ‘Did you hear?’

Hera bashed her spoon on the table. ‘Go on big boat.’

Hera often seemed to know things others didn’t.  I wouldn’t have to worry about my family being left behind.  Hera had foretold the coming of the ship that now lay riding at anchor just beyond Taris’s dome, waiting until daylight to rescue the five hundred of us who lived here.  She was so young – most people were not inclined to believe the predictions of a two-year-old.

‘Yes,’ I told my sister. ‘So eat up. We have to climb the mountain first.'”

[p13, Fleur Beale (2010) Fierce September. Random House: Auckland.]  NOTE: you can read the rest of this first chapter in an extract made available online at the publisher’s Fierce September page.

Themes in the novel

FAMILY; COMMUNITY; OUTSIDERS; UTOPIA; IDEALISM; THE REFUGEE EXPERIENCE; THE IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE; STORYTELLING; STORY AND IDENTITY; THE OTHER

Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Fierce September:

Consider:

Storytelling:

  • This novel takes an interest in story and its impact both on individuals and communities. How?
  • How often are stories told? In what way? By whom? To whom? (NB p181, etc)
  • What story is told? What story/stories are not told?
  • As with the first book, Juno of Taristhe impact of gossip on both individuals and communities is strong; here, the news media and the internet provide the means of dissemination and the gossip between the Taris folk themselves serves more as a means of reinforcing unity, than of breaking social bonds; by which I mean, the gossip in this book seems to serve a different – even opposing? – function in Fierce September to the function it served in Juno of Taris.
  • Fairy tales influence events in this story.  Juno uses her reading of Sleeping Beauty to discover that the pandemic ravaging Aotearoa is viral, not bacterial (p171). In fact, fairy tales are mentioned regularly – and it is of note that Juno is given a “book of myths and legends of Aotearoa” by the bookshop guy to atone for his misunderstanding of her people during the pandemic (p313). In what ways are fairy tales important? How do they help the protagonist/other characters develop the knowledge they need to solve their problems?
  • As a reader, did you get “all wrapped up in the Jov and Vima drama” (329), just as Juno did?  I did. I thought Jov and Vima would end up together. Of course, Juno’s the narrator, but the way this particular minor story arc unfolded was interesting.  Arranged marriages were a feature of Taris life, but the adolescent narrator/protagonist wants ‘marriage for love‘.  What ideas about marriage, partnership, security, community, loyalty, love, etc. are being explored through this story arc.  It might be worth pulling this story out to look at more closely – in particular, the way in which the ‘Jov and Vima drama‘ is told!  (pp327-329 describe Juno’s experience of this story’s ending in Fierce September – though there is a hint it is not quite finished (p341))
  • ‘Law’ and ‘Belief’ are widely accepted to be uniting factors within notions of community.  What was interesting in Fierce September, was the way in which beliefs of certain groups were described – and how these descriptions helped set them apart from our protagonist and her helpers.  p69 is particularly revealing in this regard. Willem explains Aotearoa to the Taris people: “Our population is now only about one million. …The more remote rural areas are now very small and often quite cut off from the rest of the population.  Some of these groups have formed their own societies and they don’t abide by the laws of the land.” The Taris people are then shown a “series of photographs of a group of houses surrounded by farms.  The houses looked unkempt and the farms raggedy.  Another shot showed a gathering of people practising with firearms.”  Willem comments on these photographs: “As you can see, …this group is armed.  They shoot, they don’t ask questions.  There are others like them.  Some groups seem to be reverting to superstition and witchcraft.'” (p69)  This last statement and its wording are particularly fascinating; ‘reverting’ to ‘superstition and witchcraft’ as if such beliefs were as ‘backward’ as the people who hold them – guntoting, illiterate-sounding, poor housekeepers and farmers!  What else is said of beliefs (legal and otherwise) in Fierce September? (NB also p265 (and its depiction of the ‘very conservative religious group”), pp286+ (the courtroom drama and Juno’s ‘trial’), p257 (the influence of ‘their past’ on the people of Taris),  p288 (Juno’s description of herself as rationalists – which should be read in context of all the moments in which she feels Grif’s presence guiding her, eg p285, as well as her ‘sixth sense’, eg p241 (in which Juno separates her ‘rational mind’ from her intuition))
  • What do the blogs add to the novel (it is stated at the beginning of the novel that they aren’t essential to the tale…)?
  • What role does the internet play in the rolling out of this story?

Community:

  • The nature of a community is given attention in this story – both overtly and as an underlying causal influence.  What communities exist in Aotearoa 2085? How do they compare? How do they compete? In what way is the Taris community different/similar?  (NB: pp 54, 55, 63, 183, 203, 259-261)
  • How does the Taris community compare with the various communities of Aotearoa? (NOTE: there are multiple types of community in Fierce September, so the reader is invited to make this comparison!!! To what effect?)
  • Something quite interesting about the ‘serial‘ nature of this Juno series is that the first book, Juno of Taris, is set entirely on the island and within the community of Taris; the second book, Fierce September shifts this entire community to ‘Aotearoa,’ 2085 (ref p246), where they interact as individuals and as a group with the various communities of Aotearoa.  As a reader following the series one is invited, in the first book, to enter the Taris community and watch events from within – to empathise with Juno from within her community; then, in the second book, we are invited to experience the refugee status given to the Taris community when they are rescued by ‘Aotearoa,’ (whilst still empathising with Juno and her group).  It is worth noting that, although their island is no longer a viable place to live, and although the Taris people have recently experienced authoritarian violence, the Taris refugees do arrive in Aotearoa as a 500-strong group and with in-tact families!  The people of Taris confront the difficulties of being unwanted refugees as a community; I’m not sure that this is how things work for most refugees!!! In any case, it is an interesting method of inviting sympathy for the refugees  – and worth critiquing.  In what ways are we invited to sympathise/empathise with the Taris community?   (NB: p66, p100)
  • The political debate surrounding the adoption of ‘refugees’ into one’s community resonates strongly with recent political debate in ‘our own’ Aotearoa – and in Australia.  In what way? How does media coverage of refugee movement influence your ideas? In what ways does Fleur Beale invite you to empathise with the refugees and how is this different to actual refugees in New Zealand?
  • What role do genetics play in creating a community? … and inholding it together?  Genetics are strongly influential in this story; do you accept this influence as real? What do you make of the way genetics influence character in these books? Why include the family tree on the first page?
  • By making the community of Taris ‘scapegoats‘ (p141), Beale invites the reader to connect Juno and her people with other communities of history – most notably, in terms of popular social history, the Jews. There are many books written from adolescent perspectives about the Jewish experience of Nazi Germany (in terms of many things; politics, family, adolescence, friendship, personal desire, dreams and goals, education, normality, etc.) .  How do these books compare (in tone and style, as well as in story arc) with Juno of Taris and Fierce September? What of The Diary of Anne Frank, for example? (also NB: pp 183, 257)
  • In Juno of Taris, the reader witnesses births, deaths, weddings, etc.. In Fierce September, the reader witnesses many of these life rituals again – but they are different now.  How so? Why? What does this say about the context in which the community now finds itself?  ‘Difference’ is almost always significant in fiction!  (NB pp 146, 151)
  • In fact, returning to the Jov and Vima drama mentioned above… marriage is very much a part of this story – almost a theme. Why? To what effect? Why the concern with Vima’s unmarried status when the people of Taris first disembark (p85 etc)? Why the concern with the legalities of Taris marriages on the Outside (p342)? Consider other mentions of sexuality/ social mores (eg. p104).
  • Beale has designed this story world with certain key social and economic differences in mind. Consider pp202-203, for example.  The economy has totally changed and because, in James’s words “We haven’t got money to support all the services we used to have.  We have to be more self-sufficient.  We live in smaller communities so that we know our neighbours – the idea is we help out if somebody needs it.” (p203)  The economic differences between Aotearoa 2085 and our world ‘here and now’ are explained as a consequence of our current way of living.  There are many debates raging about the longterm effects of mankind’s current way of living.  In many ways, these books are an exploration of ‘consequence’… it might be interesting to note various incidences of consequence (economic, social, etc) and isolate them for consideration.  Consider also pp67, 68.
  • In what ways was Taris supposed to be a utopia? What does this say about ‘social ills’?  In what ways did it fail? Why (is mankind inherently incapable of enjoying paradise?)? In what ways is Willem’s school based on utopian ideals? The changes in New Zealand society since the inhabitants of Taris sealed themselves inside their bubble? How are concepts of ‘utopia’ explored and described in this novel?
  • place’ seems directly connected to ‘community‘ in this novel. Consider p73, for example, when Juno wonders “What would it be like to wander around in a place big enough to get lost in? A place where others didn’t know you?” … how do such concerns connect to the migrant/refugee experience in modern cities (urban studies explore such ideas with interesting results!)? How else are community and place united throughout this text and its predecessor, Juno of Taris?
  • On this note, is there a strong sense of place in this novel?  How important is the setting to the story told?
  • What support structures are in place for these protagonists? Adults? Peers? Knowledges? Social, material, internal, inherent resources? Are they sufficient for the protagonist to overcome ‘the crisis’?

Character:

  • Who are the villains? Consider p255; in what way is villainy constructed? What or whom does one have to offend/ be destructive towards to be villainous in Juno’s story world? (NB pp172, 180, etc: what people or things are framed by terms such as ‘good’ and ‘evil’?)
  • What is threatened? What is the crisis/conflict that drives the story? What is the resolution?
  • Who has authority in this novel?  Is it questioned within the narrative? Is the reader invited to question this authority?
  • Why this protagonist to tell this story?
  • What kind of person is Juno? How is she characterised (with what language; alongside and in comparison to which characters; through what actions/thoughts/decisions/choices)?  How does she function? What supports does she have in her community; within her nature; within her skill set; within her experience?
  • What role does Juno’s stratum play in her story?
  • What role does Juno’s family play? How important is family to the story of the Taris people?
  • Who ‘belongs‘ in Aotearoa 2085 and who doesn’t?  Who is villainised within this nation? Who is made heroic? What ‘actions’ make us see them this way?
  • Is character defined by action? By description? By genetics?
  • Does Beale include physical descriptions of these characters? Are they identifiable in the ‘ethnic‘ terms we are familiar with in Aotearoa right now?
  • What are we to make of the sixth sense in this novel? It is problematic within the story world itself. Juno and Hera, her baby sister, both have it – as do, it seems, others from her stratum.  How is this ‘ability’ described? How does Juno come to have it? Is it an inherent ability?  How does this ability shape her character? I am interested in ways that apparently ‘inherent’ abilities support adolescents though tribulations in Young Adult literature; what social expectations do these abilities imply to the reader?
  • The judge at Juno’s trial is a very interesting character.  She seems to be behaving in an unbiased manner, but there is a hint that her personal opinions side with our protagonist (NB p298)!  What is being said of the legal system here? How fair is the law? On migrants, refugees, different communities, ‘Others’, adolescents, etc.?
  • To be cont…

Texts that invite comparison

Any comparison needs to take the rest of the ‘Juno’ series into context – as well, perhaps, as the blogs to which this text makes reference.

There is an interest in the power of story that puts me in mind of Bernard Beckett’s Genesis.

The consideration of utopian ideals puts this text in the context of other such novels – again, Bernard Beckett’s Genesis, but also Mandy Hager’s The Crossing, etc.  It might be interesting to take this approach from a ‘community‘ standpoint – What is community? How many ways of ‘community’ are there? How important is community to the individual/the child/the adolescent/the adult? How do communities rely upon each other/treat each other?

It might be interesting to compare Juno to another teenage protagonist who didn’t have so many social resources to draw on… I’m trying to think of an example, but you know the type… perhaps another teenage protagonist with special abilities… In the same vein, it might be interesting to look at other books in which such social resources were essential to the protagonist’s success (Harry Potter, for example, who succeeds with help from Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, etc).  What about Nicky in Ella West’s Thieves?  Basically, I’m wondering: How important is community to the adolescent’s ‘safe/healthy’ development?  I feel YA Lit has a lot to say about this: again, Roberta Seelinger Trites‘ ideas about power in YA Lit are relevant to such an analysis.

The actual Ahmed Zaoui case and surrounding reportage (search the net; http://www.freezaoui.org.nz/; there was an in-depth, interesting interview with him on the Sunday morning program, My God, etc.).  The nature of story, again, could prove an interesting angle to take here.

Other Fleur Beale books?…

… still thinking… so basically forthcoming…

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please do!

Beale’s Fierce September: a History

Awards won:  

 

Winner NZ post Awards, Young Adult category, 2011 (photo on flickr)

Publishing History:

This is the sequel to Juno of Taris (2008).

Fierce September was first published by Random House NZ, 2010; it is also available as an e-book (epub and kindle).  The novel uses a cross-media technique, connecting the reader to blogs online as they proceed through the text:

http://www.bobbingontheocean.blogspot.com/

http://www.warningtheworld.blogspot.com/

Bibliography of secondary literature:

  • there’s not been much academic criticism done on Fleur Beale’s writing (1 May 2011).
  • There are a number of interviews and reviews around the place.
  • Random House put out a Teachers’ Resource Kit, or Teachers Notes (freely available download)
  • Random House also make the first chapter freely available online as a PDF download

Author information:

Refer previous blog: Introducing Fleur Beale

Fleur Beale

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