Poetry Shelf review Fleur Beale’s The Faraway Girl

The Faraway Girl, Fleur Beale, Penguin, 2022

Without planning it, I have been reading a bunch of Aotearoa children’s and YA ghost novels. And so far they have been excellent! Fleur Beale’s The Faraway Girl is a YA ghost story that works on so many levels. It underlines why I am a devoted book fan. Novels can divert, amuse, entertain. They can challenge you at the level of feeling and of ideas. They might reflect parts of the world back to you – in ways that are refreshing, transformational, revealing. Things you have forgotten, things you never knew.

Fleur’s novel is so very satisfying. It is action plus, heart-in-the-mouth paced, character rich, dialogue smart. I love the ghost story but I also love the way I engage with both our contemporary time and with 1869. The key issue: what is it like to be a girl or a woman in England 1869 and in Aotearoa 2019. I become the eavesdropping ghost amassing rekindled despair at how it was for women in 1869 – how they were owned and shared, were without rights and chattels, were straitjacketed under corsets and awkward clothing, how they could seldom speak their minds as their minds were consistently denigrated, how they were baby factories. Fleur layers such piquant detail the misogynistic world is bitingly real.

But I am also musing on how things are for women and girls now. So much has changed, our lives are so much better and freer, and more independent. Yet no way are we there yet. Look at how our Prime Minister is treated compared with how men Prime Ministers are treated. If the All Blacks had been playing in a World Cup tonight, the Herald would have been full of it – instead it’s half a page for the Black Ferns. Not forgetting the curious and disturbing responses to men treating women badly, in law courts and politics. We still do not have equity.

Today a brilliant ghost novel got me re-viewing women’s issues, issues that I explored at university, in the theses I wrote, and in the anthologies I have edited.

I love Fleur’s book so much. Every teenager should read it. Get thrilled by a ghost story tugging you to the last page, and muse upon how we need to work harder to remove gender bias, privilege, hierarchies, ignorance. We cannot hold white men as the norm, the standard, the voice of authority.

I hold this sublime book to my heart. It is both entertaining and an essential challenge. Novels like this underline the power and value of books. A glorious reading day.

Fleur Beale is the author of many award-winning books for children and young adults — she has published more than 40 books in New Zealand, as well as in the United States and England. A former high school teacher, Fleur was inspired to write her acclaimed novel I Am Not Esther when one of her students was beaten and expelled from his family for going against their religious beliefs. Fleur is a leading advocate for New Zealand authors, and home-grown literature for children and young adults.

Penguin page

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