by Kate S Richards
As is typical of Richards’ prior 3 books, “Call me Madeleine” has a lot of drama and is a coming of age story.
This Cli-fi (Climate change fiction) story is set in the near future within New Zealand and is written from the title character’s point of view.
Madeleine, a feisty 17-year-old, lives with her two professional parents. At school, she has a university age boyfriend, Liam, and two close friends, Mia and Tui. Madeleine’s frequent outbursts, obsession with texts and over the top reactions are typical for the age, and relatable.
Grief is explored. Madeleine’s grandmother has recently died from a deadly virus during one of repeated pandemics. We see how Madeleine, her mother and grandfather deal with the loss. There is also public intergenerational conflict with her grandfather, who doesn’t believe in climate change.
Madeleine is anxious about the increasing frequency of major storms, fires and floods, but only Tui shares her passion to raise awareness. She and Tui skip school to attend a climate march which makes it feel very real and relevant.
Liam is her first love and the romantic feelings Madeleine experiences are beautifully portrayed. There is understated conflict between Madeleine’s love for Liam versus his values (he won’t drive an e-car) versus her parents’ disapproval of him. There is also conflict between Madeleine and Mia, who secretly adores Liam and throws herself at him at the party, the betrayal wounding Madeleine.
She reconnects with a childhood friend, Christopher, who is also passionate about climate change, and who provides her with emotional support and moral guidance. Christopher’s family is deeply religious and his life is portrayed as pure, wholesome and honest. It didn’t quite ring true to me that Christopher would refer to himself as having a strong moral compass. However, Madeleine feels something spiritual arise to guide her. She speaks eloquently of the existentialist concern for our planet that is typical of the current Generation Z.
A strong theme of the book is resilience in the face of a series of disasters. A coastal flood, landslide and fire threaten lives in the local community, including Madeleine’s. Faith, science and a strong connection to the planet and each other provide the bedrock for recovery. The New Zealand landscape and Māori culture are lovingly described. These descriptions are a major strength of the book, portraying this country’s landscape and identity very well.
During a cyclone, Christopher helps rescue residents from a flooded retirement home. He feels vindicated that the cyclone stopped a developer from draining the wetland and building another retirement home. The Government Conservation Department (incorrectly referred to as GDC) eventually buys the abandoned land and he sets about replanting it in indigenous species.
Differences between science and religion are resolved as Chris believes God invented science. There are lovely descriptions of the birdlife and a glossary of all Māori terms.
Overall, the book is beautifully written, easy to read and would appeal to teenage girls. My only little niggle is inconsistencies with the characters due to its proselytising narrative. As is also typical of Richard’s other books, there is a strong underlying Christian religious theme.
Author: Kate S Richards
Publisher: Green Room House
Available: from the author (www.katesrichards.com), or online retailers, some bookshops