Fleur Beale, Lyla (Through My Eyes: Natural Disaster Zones), Allen & Unwin, March 2018, 208pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760113780
In 2011, when the earthquake hit Christchurch, I remember my first thought was: New Zealand? Really?
I could not fathom how that gorgeous island could experience such a devastating earthquake, but after that day stories started coming out of what people were going through, and how the city had been irrevocably changed. But, there’s a distance to those stories on the nightly news, when you can send a donation hoping it’ll help.
Lyla takes you straight into the heart of life there, post earthquake, while the city was still experiencing devastating aftershocks.
There’s nothing that “happens” here, instead this is a character piece, about the strength of kids in the face of disaster and how they can often be underestimated – and how they often feel things so much more keenly than adults give them credit for.
Post a massive aftershock, we follow the young Lyla and learn how neighbours banded together, and kids worked together, to keep themselves sane while around them the adults went about the bigger tasks of rescuing people.
Lyla is our fierce, determined young main character. She works hard to hold the fort while her police officer mother and trauma nurse father are out doing their work, even though she is freaking out about her friends, about some moving away. Lyla examines how relationships were irrevocably altered because of the earthquake and its consequences.
Importantly, it also tackles Lyla’s PTSD, and lets her – and readers – experience what that means, and gives the message that it’s okay – that there’s help to be found and saying ‘I’m okay’ does no one any good. In particular I liked that Lyla got counselling and, as resistant as she was, she had to acknowledge it helped.
On the surface, reading about the aftermath of an earthquake, and people going about their daily lives – or trying to – may not seem like the most exciting thing in the world. But books like this are about asking for help, about giving help and give readers just a little bit of what the people who experienced this event must’ve gone through.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow