Tigerfish by David Metzenthen

cover image

Penguin, 2014. ISBN 9780143568421.
Themes: Poverty and Disadvantage; Violence; Friendship; Perseverence; Hope and Hopelessness; Abuse. One of the values of literature is that it gives the reader an opportunity to 'walk a mile in the shoes' of a character and see the world through their eyes. Tigerfish gives us the opportunity of walking in the shoes of several young teens that live in a tough working class western Melbourne suburb - in Western Bulldogs territory. Their view of the world has limited horizons, and we see the impact of poverty, social dysfunction, educational disadvantage and violence as the characters look ahead to an uncertain future. Into this world arrives Ariel, a victim of tragedy, and a resident of perhaps the worst house in one of the worst streets, in a suburb that has one shining light - a shopping Mall. Her strength despite her circumstances, and her friendship with Ryan and Evan give a sense of hope in what could be a very 'hopeless' setting. The school experience of Ryan and Evan is both violent and yet mundane. A fellow student causes them distress, but even here we gain understanding of the terrible circumstances of this aggressive and abusive antagonist.
The author reflects the language choices of this social environment with common expletives (but with some restraint considering the frequency that the 'f' bomb would usually be launched). What Metzenthen has been able to do is reveal the motivations of those who live surrounded by hopelessness. The romance with Ariel and growing concern for her family, the loyalty within Ryan's family, friendships that reveal caring attitudes and the bright moments when people show that they can overcome the dark clouds of disadvantage are powerful reminders of humanity at its best. This is a powerful book, but very uncomfortable and confronting to read because of the challenges of disadvantage that it reveals.
Carolyn Hull