A beautiful story of empowerment, Natalya Newman
Make a Hard Fist
22 December, 2020
Published in 2018, Tina Shaw’s second YA novel, Make a Hard Fist is a compelling narrative portraying the trauma and recovery of 16-year-old Lizzie Quinn. Although this book is YA fiction, it shows something that many people have had to live through. It strives to drive the point home that victims of trauma – in this case of mugging, stalkers, physical assault and attempted sexual assault – shouldn’t be expected to be grateful since ‘it could’ve been so much worse’. Shaw uses this book to tell the story of Lizzie Quinn, a teenage girl like any other.
Lizzie Q lives a simple life. She hangs out with her friends, spends time with her family, wants to learn to drive and has a part-time job at the library. She is confident in who she is and what she wants, but little does she know that one event will be enough to shatter this mindset and change everything. After she experienced an attempted mugging and assault at the local reserve that she cuts through to get home, Lizzie Q is distraught. The police are supportive and try to help her identify the face of her attacker, but Lizzie struggles to remember. Then she discovers there has been another attack, and the girl in question hadn’t been as ‘lucky’ as Lizzie. Overnight, it seems, she feels as though she has become scared of her own shadow. And, to top it all off, Lizzie might have a stalker. They keep sending her anonymous letters, and she can’t help but feel as though they might be connected to her attacker.
What follows is a journey of recovery and learning to regain lost confidence and strength. The unsigned letters keep appearing in the mail. Maybe it’s just her friends being stupid, or could it be her shortlived boyfriend? When more letters begin to arrive, Lizzie begins to suspect that she is being watched; and this coupled with the recent attack pulls her deeper into her own doubts and threatens to suffocate her. After sharing some of these doubts with her teacher, Lizzie wants to know how to defend herself if she is ever attacked again. And maybe, just maybe, she can learn how to feel safe in herself once again.
Enter Junior, a 19-year-old boy who a teacher has arranged for them to learn self-defence from. As the lessons progress, Lizzie finds herself becoming attracted to Junior, but everyone has their secrets. And although Lizzie doesn’t know it, Junior’s secrets might just be enough to darken the light she so desperately wants to bring back to her life.
Make a Hard Fist is a YA novel depicting the physical assault that many women have experienced. This novel is relevant and informative, as both what Junior teaches and the pages at the back of the book show self-defence techniques that have the ability to save lives. Shaw also details the process of recovering from trauma. Lizzie believes that the way she’s feeling will never end, but Shaw shows how unconditional love and support from her family and friends does so much to help her. An important message and one of the core themes within this novel is support. Whether it’s therapy, family, friends or just finding ways to feel happy; all of these are key pieces that Lizzie uses to rebuild the foundations of her life.
The cover of this book features Lizzie in muted colours, black hair, stark white skin, and dull lips and clothes. This could depict how Lizzie feels after the attack, as though all the life, happiness and colour has been drained out of her. It also shows her raised fists as a tribute to both the title and her desire to feel safe. The title is written in a jagged, rough font and the only bright colour in the cover is the word Hard, which could be highlighting exactly how difficult it feels to go through a traumatic experience. This cover appears to be portraying Lizzie Quinn’s mindspace, which is also an accurate representation of the book’s content.
This novel is a compelling and informative read as it covers the topics of trauma, self-defence, love, support and recovery. Shaw addresses the growing need in society for self-defence for all people and provides information on how to learn this. Although both the title and cover point directly towards the more violent topics of the novel, Shaw makes sure to include the positive aspects of Lizzie’s life instead of just the negative ones.
In the way Make a Hard Fist shows support, recovery and development; this book reminds me of They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera. They Both Die At The End follows 24 hours shown from many different perspectives, ranging from desperation, shows of support, pain, falling in love and many more. Both of these books show the range of human emotion and character development. So if you have read and enjoyed They Both Die At The End, then I would definitely recommend giving Make a Hard Fist a try.
Ultimately, Make a Hard Fist is an informative story of trauma, recovery and support. Shaw portrays the struggles and obstacles faced by a young woman caused by an attack. If you want to read a beautiful story depicting self-confidence and empowerment, then I wholeheartedly recommend Make a Hard Fist.
- Natalya is a Year 11 student at Huanui College in Whangarei.