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New Zealand in Young Adult Fiction

January 2, 2012

There’s a great new book on the market – A Made-Up Place: New Zealand in Young Adult Fiction, by Anna Jackson, Geoffrey Miles, Harry Ricketts, Tatjana Schaefer, and Kathryn Walls (Victoria University Press: Wellington)…

Divided thematically into chapters (Maori and Pakeha; Englishness; History; Utopia; Money; Religion; Sport; Futures; Maori Gothic), this book is easy to read and covers a wide range of New Zealand YA fiction – including, notably, recently published works by newer authors.

By way of a taster and because I found it thought-provoking… Anna Jackson’s introductory discussion of nationalism, place, identity, and story leads her to consider, among other authors and novels, David Hair and Alison Healey (as representatives of the newly coined genre ‘Maori Gothic’). Jackson writes: “[David] Hair’s novels as well as [Karen] Healey’s novel represent and make imaginative use of New Zealand’s biculturalism, even as the division between an everyday ‘New Zealand’ and an ‘Aotearoa’ that exists elsewhere creates a new division in what has been thought of as Aotearoa/New Zealand. In both these writers’ novels, however, just as in Mahy’s fantasy novels, the boundaries between the ‘made-up places’ and the ‘real world’ are porous; patupaiarehe come out of the mists into our world in Guardian of the Dead, in Hair’s novels the young hero and his sorcerous adversaries can move back and forth between mundane New Zealand and magical Aotearoa. It is possible for people to cross over into these places, if ‘they’re very powerful, or have something very powerful’, as (part-human, part-taniwha) Mark explains in Guardian of the Dead, though he warns, ‘if you go in and you don’t know what you’ll find, you could find yourself in any kind of place. You bring your own history, your own mythology with you’ (141). This is a statement which has an obvious resonance for a settler society, and is suggestive too of how we might think about the resources and the interpretative skills children bring to literature.” (my emphasis in emboldened blue,  23-24)

In connecting New Zealand’s mixture of cultures with place and literary knowledge, this final statement hints at a number of interesting possibilities!  Readers in New Zealand – and certainly readers in New Zealand classrooms – bring so many personalised histories to bear on each text, it is hard to imagine getting a handle on the many ways they do so. However, Jackson’s connection of this situation to a fracturing of place is an interesting line of thought…

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