Penguin Teen Australia
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Ryan Lanyon lives in a tough western suburb of Melbourne. His brother works in a factory and has just started doing nights as a bouncer, much to everyone in the family’s fear and displeasure. His best friend walks around with a bow and set of arrows at night, just looking for a reason to fire one. And he has a crush on Ariel, a girl from the country who is new to their area and works in a surf shop in the mall when she should be in school.
Ryan spends the days of summer at the local shopping centre, walking his dog or hanging out with his best friend, perhaps his only friend. When school goes back it’s all about getting through the day, avoiding the guy who wants to pick a fight with anyone to make their lives hell and also, football. He’s passionate about his team and makes the trip to see them play and stays until the bitter end when they’re losing. He also spends a lot of time worrying about his brother and what he might be getting up to in his new career as a bouncer in the city and of course, thinking about Ariel and how to get to know her better.
Be like the tigerfish, I say – swim quietly, stay down deep, protect yourself at all times and have your weapons at the ready – whatever weapons they may be (p60-61).
Tigerfish is set in the western ‘burbs of Melbourne, in a fictional town named Templeton. I can guess where it’s based on judging by Ryan’s passionate support of his local AFL football team, the Western Bulldogs and the fact that he mentions where they train at some stage. This means that the book is also set around 25m from where I currently live and although my area is much different to the one described in the book, there are many familiar things and bits and pieces of Australian suburban life that I can relate to.
Ryan is the sort of kid that keeps his head down as much as possible and gets on with life. His parents are not well off but they have enough to get by, attend the odd game of footy and can help out when someone is a bind by knowing basically all the tradies in the area who might do a job for a slab of beer. His older brother Slate was smart enough but coasted through school and now works a job he dislikes in a local factory. Slate has been bulking up a lot lately and Ryan senses quite a lot of simmering aggression in him, something that he worries Slate will give an out by working his nighttime job as a bouncer. The family have visions of Slate being glassed or attacked by angry, drunk patrons and they’d all prefer him to step away from that life, although none seem game enough to tell him this bluntly to his face or if they try, Slate isn’t in a listening mood.
Ryan spends time not at school hanging out at the local shopping centre which is where he meets Ariel. From the country, she’s moved to the city after her family lost everything and they are rebuilding. Ryan works to get to know her and when he finds out she’s never been to the sea, it’s the beginning of day trips, hanging out and drawing Ariel’s younger sister out of the protective shell she has surrounded herself with. The scenes with Ariel and her sister and the way Ryan, his friend Evan and even Ryan’s family adjust to the small girl’s quirks and work with her to make her feel comfortable, were really well crafted. Especially the one between her and Slate, Ryan’s older brother.
I don’t often read many YA stories narrated by a male character and I always find them interesting. Ryan is very low key, he’s quite intelligent but understated – almost like he doesn’t really want to show it. He’s torn between many things in this novel – right and wrong, to fight or not to, to walk away or not to. He shows a maturity and care about other people, particularly Ariel and her family. He organises many things, getting his dad to call in favours or sometimes giving them himself, in order to get things done for her safety that the family can’t really afford. The whole aura around their part of the suburb is one of hopelessness and yet Ryan seems to be a person of hope that there’s good things out there. He looks for the better, both for himself and also for his family and his friends. Especially for Ariel, because you get the feeling Ariel hasn’t had good things in her life for a little while. Ryan’s gestures are simple, but they are very effective.
Tigerfish is both gritty and yet tender as well, a cleverly written novel that portrays a working class suburb that verges on poverty and has its problems with crime and violence but merely provides the backdrop for the strength of friendship that builds between the characters.
Book #27 of 2014
Tigerfish is book #4 of my Aussie Author Challenge