“Forced by their parents to spend the summer on an isolated beach with a mysterious woman named Samantha, both girls become players in what is known as The Game, meeting and learning about inspirational women, understanding the social pressures that affect this present generation of women and acquiring the determination to fight their own battles in their troubled lives back home.
Prior to meeting Samantha, Gemma was a rebellious, angry, lonely girl with her “dyed black hair and kohl blackened eyes”. This is due to her damaged past associated with cruel anarchists, who strained her relationship with her wealthy parents and added to the existing weight of their forceful expectations of her future as a lawyer.
Shamed, secretive, abused Alice’s hard background is no better, with her family situation anything but content. The hostility between the stand-offish cousins is undeniable.
Every day for a week, Sam takes Gemma and Alice to events around the area, organising meetings with her friends and encouraging them to research inspiring women, sparking their interests in the theatre (Gemma) and botany (Alice). Then Sam reveals that the girls are becoming players in what is known as “The Game.” She is later discovered to be The Game’s Fire Keeper.
The Game exists because “when women lose their natural place in the world, certain people pass it on to girls who are ready.” Sam is there to help the girls find their “fire” and their place in the ever-changing world they live in.
The central themes in this novel begin to appear as the girls follow their dreams and find the determination to succeed on their chosen paths. Throughout their time at Sam’s house, the barriers between the girls begin to crumble as they form strong relationships with each other.
The Game also brings light to important social pressures women must face in this current generation. “Some social pressures never change, no matter when or where they appear. How women look is one. Men have defined the ideal female body for centuries, and women always fall for it. Even though that ideal keeps changing. Most women either conform to these ideals or fight them, but I rarely see anyone question who sets the standards and why,” Sam says.
The theme expands to include relevant issues such as bullying, sexual abuse, the pressure of parental expectations and even deforestation. The author doesn’t avoid tough topics, increasing awareness of these worldwide problems. Part 1 ends with Sam exchanging a parting gift with the girls to utilise if they are ever in danger.
Part 2 of the novel follows Gemma and Alice at home into their everyday lives, trying to refocus their futures according to their newfound passions and reset strong boundaries between themselves and those who have hurt them. This is easier said than done but with the help of their gifts they triumph in the end.
I loved how at the end, the author includes brief biographies of all the women Gemma and Alice researched for The Game. I learnt an immense amount about many incredible women, and I especially loved the stories of Margaret Hamilton and Helen Sharman. Another thing I noticed is Hansen’s ability to fluidly interchange between points of view, giving readers the ability to understand the girl’s differing personalities, opinions and experiences. Altogether, The Fire Keeper’s Girls is an inspiring novel that exposed me to new ideas and issues this world is currently facing.
Tessa Sitjes is a 14-year-old reviewer for Hooked on NZ books Te Ao Ano, Oct. 2020, and student at Sacred Heart Girl’s College, New Plymouth.