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Reviewed by Ciara McLellan
Opening sentence
“That’s what a memory is like for me. It’s a comic with all the frames taken out and the pictures washing over one another. I need to draw the lines back in.”
Ever since Mandy Malham moved to New Zealand from the UK, she has never felt like she fits in. Throughout primary school she tiptoed a line, scared of being bullied again by Jen and her cronies. Even now, in high school and at the Surf Club, the way Jen treats her has not changed.

Rachel Fenton’s Between the Flags follows the story of Mandy Malham, a lifeguard trainee who struggles to hold her life together after the death of her six-year-old brother, Casey. Rachel Fenton weaves a beautiful story about loss and finding yourself, even when it feels like the whole world is working against you. Fenton dives into the topics of bullying, trauma, grief and PTSD with tenderness and sincerity, making this book a beautiful read.

Fourteen-year-old Mandy Malham lives with her brother Casey, her brother’s father Geoff, and her mum in a house in the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand. Life is in no way perfect, but it is hers. Growing up in New Zealand, she has always been bullied about her weight by Jen and her friends. This meant that since entering into lifeguard training, she has wanted to beat Jen in the surf lifesaving championships in order to prove her worth on the squad.

Mandy loves to draw, and sees life as if she is looking at a comic. “That’s what a memory is like for me. It’s a comic with all the frames taken out and the pictures washing over one another. I need to draw the lines back in.” After the death of her brother, she uses her comic as a coping mechanism to help her deal with the pain and hold her above her grief, and it becomes one of the only things Mandy can control about her life. The way Between the Flags is written also conveys the idea of a graphic novel. ‘In the first frame, the whistle tells us to take our marks. Second frame is a bird’s eye view of Soldier Tree Bay…’ Rachel Fenton combines her beautiful writing techniques with her talents as a graphic novelist, and the result is a unique, emotional story.

This book is recommended for ages 13+, as it will require a certain level of maturity with the mention of more serious topics, and the realistic portrayal of Mandy’s mental health and the way she copes with her brother’s death. Despite this, Between the Flags is still a gripping read, difficult to stop reading once you have started. Rachel Fenton has done a great job capturing the difficulties of being a teenager in Mandy, with the complex emotions and relationships that preside in a teenager’s life, making her a believable character.

I really enjoyed reading this book. At first, Fenton’s style of writing took a bit of time to get used to, but now I can truly appreciate the way the book was written. Although I am usually more of a fantasy/dystopian reader myself, this book was still beyond interesting, and I highly recommend this book, however some caution should be taken, as some of the themes could be triggering for readers.
Author & Illustrator: Rachel Fenton
Publisher: The Cuba Press
ISBN: 978-1-99-115083-7
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2022
Ages: 13+
Themes: Grief, PTSD, Intermediate, Young Adult, Realism