Review Blog

Sep 29 2017

The Fighting Stingrays by Simon Mitchell

cover image

Penguin Random House Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780143784104
(Age: Year 9+) Charlie, Masa and Alf are best mates living on idyllic Thursday Island. While they spend their childhood playing soldiers at war, they are also surrounded by the Aussie troops defending the Torres Strait. The lads are all counting the days until they can sign up for the Airforce like Biggles, their cult hero. One morning, news breaks that Japan has mounted a full scale attack on Australia's allies in both Pearl Harbor and The Philippines. Suddenly all of the Japanese Islanders (even those who have never lived off the island) are herded into a prison camp by Captain Maddox, who is both domineering and taking full advantage of his position. With the help of his mates, Masa escapes and spends a large part of the second half of the story living in makeshift shelter on the island and hiding from his enemies. However, Captain 'Maggots' isn't finished with him yet and starts hunting.
The main character's contrasting personalities are well established during the early part of the book. Charlie lives in the big house, his Father is the owner of Pearl Shell Company but the family unit has a sad history and is struggling. Alf has a tough life; his Dad is the local alcoholic who regularly beats him and his brother is in Darwin fighting the war. Masa is a Japanese Australia, whose Dad is the lead diver on one of Mr Napier's luggers. Captain Maddox, the young army captain, shows his prejudices towards the 'Japs' and becomes more and more fanatic as the story goes on.
The novel themes include how friendships are tested during war time and also how even strong relationships are influenced by the media of the day. With real historical events to draw on, including the stories of his Islander grandmother, the author uses the perspective of the teenagers to describe life amidst the Defense Force on alert for an impending attack. The author uses colloquialisms of the day as well, which would make for an interesting comparative task. The story itself was highly enjoyable and would be a great unit for Middle Years students.
Clare Thompson

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