05 March 2019
Everyone remembers the bus ride on school trips. The smell of orange peel and soggy sandwiches, and later on at High School the scents of fruity lip gloss and deodorant, the bitchy comments and showing off, entrenching the social hierarchy. This is how we begin Flight of the Fantail, setting up our characters in a few smart lines of dialogue. Devin: poor, unacademic, mercilessly teased. Rocky: school jock, handsome, always right. Eva: mouthy, popular, in love with Mandy. Idelle: bully, nasty piece of work. Jahmin: rich kid, joker, likeable. Then, bam!, the action begins as the bus plunges off a cliff into a river in the middle of nowhere.
What follows is a gripping survival story with more twists and knots than a neglected extension cord. The young adults of Kotuku School are either killed on impact or disgorged, injured and disoriented, into the bush where small clumps of them regroup and begin to redefine social pecking orders. Our main protagonist becomes Devin, daughter of an eccentric single father whose random hobbies have given her a broad set of skills, suddenly essential rather than laughable in their new situation. Rocky is badly injured and unable to assume his natural air of command and Mandy is dead, leaving Eva grief stricken and in shock. Devin finds herself to be resourceful and useful and slowly has to get used to being the one others come to for aid.
As the story progresses we get much more than a survival story. Government search and rescue is hampered as the bus crashed on highly restricted Seddon Corporation land where electronic devices don’t work and helicopters are brought down by a powerful, unseen influence. The young people are not only disoriented but strangely affected by something in the bush that causes hallucinations and mood disturbances.
There is so much going on in this book, making it constantly exciting and engaging. The kids are still kids, going through crushes and sorting out friendships and there is a lot of humour in the danger and darkness. This is an outstanding read for anyone of about 14 years and up.
Louise Ward runs Wardini Books, an independent bookshop with stores in Havelock North and Napier. Louise is has a background in teaching at primary and intermediate levels, sits on the Board of Booksellers NZ and is passionate about quality Aotearoa stories.
Flight of the Fantail by Steph Matuku, $30.00