Tigerfish by David Metzenthen
Penguin Books Aus RRP: AUD $17.99
– Award winning Australian author
– Gritty depiction of urban life for teens
– Examines moral choices, peer relations and identity formation
– Recommended for readers 13 years+
For more information visit Penguin Books Australia
Tigerfish is the new novel for Young Adults from award winning Australian author David Metzenthen. It follows a young man, Ryan Lanyon, as he meanders through life in the outer Western suburbs of Melbourne. The ‘wild west’ is populated with lost souls and sags under a heavy atmosphere of working class poverty, latent aggression and a lack of hope for a brighter future. Ryan sees things differently, though. He is quietly optimistic; satisfied with a peaceful life and a tasty hot chocolate at the end of the day. He sees the good in people and makes the best of situations, making him an engaging narrator in a bigger story about dysfunctional families, warring teens and moral dilemmas.
When Ryan meets Ariel, the ethereal new girl at the local surf shop, it’s love at first sight. At least, it’s ‘love’ in the beautifully teenage sense of butterflies in the stomach and a slow burn that builds eventually to a mutual affection. Ariel’s family has moved to the big smoke after their lives were catastrophically rearranged by a flood in their rural home. Looking every bit the mermaid, Ariel has never seen the sea until Ryan arranges a day trip for her and the little sister she cares for, Kaydie. Tigerfish shows us how small acts – a trip to the beach, a shared hot chocolate – can be true gifts to someone who wouldn’t otherwise experience them. In many ways, this is a story about the little things that add up to a life, in a particular urban context. Ryan’s gently observant manner shows the reader that you don’t necessarily need millions of dollars and wild adventures to find happiness. It’s all about perspective and purpose.
Having said that, there are many unhappy people in the tightly wound (fictional) suburb of Templeton. Bored youths wander the streets with weapons looking for fights to pick, with deluded understandings about honour and protection. Families are haunted by the ghosts of the past, which they never have time to confront or put to rest because they need all their energy for day to day survival. The local shopping mall is the only place to hang out, and yet it stands as a symbol of the things people can’t afford. School is a battle ground of grudges. The stress and frustration in the community is palpable, yet Ryan seems able to rise above it.
Tigerfish works on a range of levels and would be a great addition to a school reading list. It tackles suicide, sexuality and violence – but none of these is graphic, and all of them are thoroughly contextualised. Tigerfish reminded me a little of S E Hinton’s The Outsiders (a personal favourite from my own teen years). In a similar vein to Ponyboy Curtis, Ryan shows sensitivity and insight when describing the hyper masculine environment he lives in. Tigerfish is a far more positive book, however, than many within the teen realist genre. It’s also a very Australian book, in the sense that life is tough, but not ‘ghetto’ tough. The protagonists are more lost and bored than genuinely under threat, although the hardships they do experience are very real. At the book’s conclusion, the new school year brings fresh starts all round – as if Ryan is being rewarded for never losing hope.
With thanks to the publisher for my review copy.