Upwelling by Lystra Rose

A review by Nalini Haynes

The Upwelling has a bit of a back story, at least for me. It arrived as an unsolicited review book without explanation. I looked at it. The cover says “Black&Write writing fellowship winner” so, for some completely inexplicable reason, I thought it was US or Canadian. Publicists often send me international books on the basis that most of Dark Matter Zine‘s readers and listeners are in the United States.

I could have read up on the book before reading but I like to approach each book with as much of an open mind as possible. Therefore, I went in cold.

On the first page I started re-evaluating my assumptions. Lystra Rose, the author, has such a strong Australian voice that I googled to check. By page 2, Rose declared her Australian setting.

First Nations

Knowing that The Upwelling is a First Nations story, I resolved to approach with caution. I know enough about First Nations’ cultures and beliefs to realize it would be easy to offend. And even easier to make faux pas that could influence others. I’m first to throw figurative stones when authors misappropriate disability so I want to be sensitive in my review of this novel.

Given the above, and acknowledging my ignorance, I feel it’s important to set out my assumptions.

The Upwelling uses Australian settings in the present and before white invasion/colonization – it’s a time travel story – so the culture and beliefs of one of Australia’s First Nations are essential to the story.

I assume that all the First Nations faith, beliefs, religion, (what do I call it?) in the story are true beliefs. Religion, to me, evokes codified beliefs endemic in an institutional structure with hierarchy and so forth. As such, religion seems to be the wrong term. I’ll use terms like faith, belief or spirituality because terms like mysticism and mythology imply fantasy, which is disrespectful.

Time travel and First Nations’ spirituality

Avoiding spoilers while doing this review justice is tricky. My understanding of First Nations’ beliefs is that time is not linear. What was, is, and will be all co-exist for First Nations, or so I believe. The Arrival shows a simplified white version of a similar “treatment” of time, although it took white people millennia longer to engage with similar ideas.

The story

Somewhat later in a review than normal, I now turn to discussing the actual plot.

Kirra is a First Nations young woman – teenager – whose nightmares have driven her family, estranged from their cultural heritage, to seek counselling. Despite this, Kirra believes her nightmares predict the truth. So she’s terrified of joining in a surfing competition although she adores surfing.

The next two chapters focus on Narn and Tarni respectively. Without having read sufficiently on the story’s premise, the environment and culture were surprising. Then it clicked: this is a time travel story. Sure enough, Kirra travels back through time and then the story really kicks off.

Kirra engages with her people centuries in the past, learns of clan (intra-tribal) conflict and very real dangers. Nightmares of the end of the world may be metaphorical, but interpretation is still important… especially when the hopes of metaphor fade.

Use of language

I want all my readers to read this novel. Having said that, the Australian slang can create barriers. The first few chapters were challenging for me, reminding me a little of studying Shakespeare in high school. Once you get into it, it’s like talking with a friend who has a strong accent: you no longer notice it. But there can still be hiccups.

Rose uses terms like “leggie” and “wettie”. “Leggie” is obviously a leg strap, attached to a surfer’s ankle and their board so they don’t lose the board. “Wettie” is wet suit. Because Australians just can’t help ourselves. Feel free to comment with problems and jokes about our slang. I’ll start: “ambo” means “paramedic”; “Bottle-o” is liquor store;  “hospo” is hospitality industry/venue etc. That last one I hadn’t heard until the pandemic then I mistakenly used “hospo” for “hospital” and was gently corrected by someone.

Use of Language

The Upwelling is, ultimately, a First Nations’ story by a First Nations’ woman so Rose uses Language. When it’s First Nations, we capitalize Language, just like we capitalize Country because it means something more than the everyday.

I didn’t realize The Upwelling included a glossary at the back and, to be honest, even if I had known, I wouldn’t have looked for it. Reading paper books with a disability has its own kind of challenge, and flipping back and forth for a glossary is not happening. It’s an exercise in frustration. Therefore my one criticism of this novel is the lack of footnotes. If Terry Pratchett can obsessively use footnotes for informational and comedic purposes then, in my opinion, any fiction publisher can use footnotes to help readers.

Apart from that, it’s awesome that Language features in The Upwelling. “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” is an adage that effectively encompasses culture and use of l/Language.

The verdict

The Upwelling is an excellent time travel story on its own. Plus it has romance, adventure, and an evil supervillain. However, it also shows us First Nations before and after invasion/colonization and explores social issues. If you’re familiar with my work, you KNOW I’m here for that: an excellent read AND educational!

Lystra Rose may be a debut author but she’s an editor in her own right: she’s the first woman editor-in-chief of a mainstream surfing magazine in the world. I have a girl-crush since reading up on her for this review.

I highly recommend this novel and predict it will feature in high school English classes in the near future.

Book details

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Paperback ISBN: 9780734420251; 368 pages plus glossary etc
Ebook ISBN: 9780734420268
Imprint: Lothian (Hachette Australia)
Released: 2022
Category: fiction, young adult, romance, time travel, social issues, First Nations

The Upwelling: a hole is surrounded by swirling water and sea plants (I think)