- A Made-Up Place by Anna Jackson et al.
Despite a strange cover that seemingly shows two girls in their underwear, this fascinating book by New Zealand-based scholars who teach children’s literature discusses what is likely to be new ground for many of us: young adult literature from New Zealand. It analyses a number of topics (ranging from race to sport, the Gothic to money) and refers to many authors, including Margaret Mahy, Maurice Gee, and Witi Ihimaera. The main topic is national identity, which is connected to other issues, so Jackson, Miles, Rickets, Schaefer, and Walls analyze young adult literature from New Zealand with the apparent aim of understanding what such works say about New Zealand and about the New Zealander identity (or identities). [End Page 95]
This work helps New Zealand to escape from being known as “just” another Commonwealth country; the authors focus on the country’s literature and identity in its own right, rather than as an offshoot of Britain. And yet, there is a distinct sense of confusion about where New Zealand identity lies. Is it with the English, in a sense of Englishness, whatever that might be? Is it more generally European white (which is referred to as Pākehā)? Is it with the indigenous Māori? Is it some combination thereof? Is there such a thing as New Zealandness? Or something else altogether? The authors—and New Zealanders in general, it seems—are not sure. If it is true that “[w]here New Zealand YA authors represent the kind of institutionalized management of national identity or invention of tradition proposed by [Ernest] Gellner or [Eric] Hobsbawn, then, this is almost invariably in a critical spirit” (12), then this comment suggests an ambiguous feeling towards national identity. An implicit question in this book seems to be: is there a coherent New Zealand identity? Or are there multiple New Zealand identities? The authors respond: “Pākehā New Zealanders are defined at one and the same by their difference from the English, and by their English heritage” (45). But then, in “other New Zealand books for YA readers, we find similar representations of Englishness as a respectability against which New Zealanders define themselves by their difference; as a heritage which defines the Pākehā New Zealander in contrast to the Māori; as connected both to memory and to forgetting” (45).
Memory and forgetting seem to be key themes in YA literature from New Zealand, and they recur frequently here, though the chapters themselves seem somewhat randomly ordered. In the chapter on historical fiction, Ricketts points out how historical novels for young adult readers are popular because“[t]he past, particularly the YA fictional past, is a potentially safe space to escape to, to fantasize about, even (through imaginative games) to pretend we live in” (68). And yet, “[one] of the oddities of New Zealand YA historical fiction is that until now it has almost exclusively been the preserve of Pākehā writers” (69). These Pākehā writers have been inspired by British historical fiction whose nationalist/imperialist attitudes have often found their way into NZ historical novels (73). As a result, NZ historical fiction tends to focus on settler experiences at the expense of Maori history. Ricketts offers an alternative explanation for this. Since the Māori view time and history differently from Europeans, the past is not necessarily past but rather a place you can return to easily, so historical fiction is perhaps a contradiction.
Another popular genre in New Zealand young adult fiction seems to be utopian and dystopian novels. Miles suggests, “[in] a sense, the real country of New Zealand emerges out of this tradition of utopian fantasy and speculation” (88). Miles makes the case that futurist fiction is in some ways about identity and can be descriptive even if it is not realistic. He writes: “New Zealand’s YA dystopian fiction, then, is not simply following an international fashion for such fictions; it also springs from specifically New Zealand anxieties…about race...