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Literature / Shatterbelt

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Tracy Chipp was in Turmoil. She knew that something terrible was about to happen. She had seen glimpses of it in her mind — tiny bits like parts of a jigsaw puzzle — and she had managed to piece some of them together. But nobody was willing to believe her...

Shatterbelt is an Australian young adult fantasy novella by Colin Thiele, published by Walter McVitty Books in 1987.

Tracy is puzzled by strange mind-pictures which suddenly appear before her, as if from nowhere. What can they possibly mean? Tracy doesn't know, but when when one of her visions helps to save the lives of her two best friends, she senses they are premonitions — warnings of coming danger. When some of them begin returning, again and again, she realises that they are preparing her for a great disaster ahead. But what kind... and when?

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Thiele wrote a sequel book in 1992, Aftershock!

Shatterbelt provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: The Klein family's reaction when Andy is almost killed falling down a cliff. Helen's reaction when Tracy leaves the house early on the morning of the fete.
  • Agent Mulder: Andy Klein is the first to believe in Tracy's powers after she forsees his accident at the cliff and tries to stop it.
  • Agent Scully: Sally Klein. Despite being established as an ESP believer early on, even after what happens at the cliff she's slow to believe Tracy may have powers.
  • Cassandra Truth: Zigzagged with Tracy: when she goes hiking with Sally and Andy, she fails to stop Andy from falling down the cliff, but after he's rescued it convinces him going forward that her powers are genuine and he helps her without hesitation in the climax. She tells her mother about it later, and while Helen initially tries to be open-minded and says they should wait and see what happens, she dismisses her concerns several times in later chapters. Likewise, Mr Bailey ignores her warning about the mine being sabotaged despite the repeated burglaries he's had to deal with because of it and she has to resort to stealing the keys from him to keep anyone from entering. When she returns to the fete and manages to get the hall evacuated just in time by sparking a panic, Helen is furious and is ready to take her home - just as the sundial hits 3:31.
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  • Catapult Nightmare: Tracy's reaction the first time she has a vision of a vibrating pipe, though she wasn't actually asleep yet.
  • Chekhov's Lecture:
    • Mr. Bailey teaches Tracy a bit about geomorphology, showing her a map of South Australia with the fault lines marked in. "There are lots of faults near Adelaide. A whole string of them. A shatterbelt."
    • Extra-sensory perception and premonitions are explained when some of Tracy's classmates get into an argument about unexplainable phenomena, giving Tracy her first clue about what's happening to her.
  • Cool Old Guy: Fred Bailey, who befriends Tracy soon after she and her mother move to Cascade Gully and helps to fix her bike after it gets wrecked by a passing truck.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Tracy's visions start at the end of chapter 2, without her even needing to be asleep.
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  • A Fête Worse Than Death: The climax centres partly on a local school fete, run by both Tracy's high school and a private grammar school. A lot of people would have been killed there if Tracy hadn't acted.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The various pieces that Tracy gets from her visions, mainly the pipe, the motto and the sundial. She actually draws completely the wrong conclusion from them, but her actions manage to save a lot of people from what actually happens.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Tracy's dog Puddles is described as a "part terrier, part corgi, part cat — and part shock."
  • News Monopoly: Downplayed in that we only see the earthquake covered on two radio stations, and the only reason Mr. Klein changes the station is because the first one had just cut to a furniture repair commercial.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: "Luceat Lux Vestra", ("Let your light shine") which Tracy sees in her visions several times. It turns out to be on display outside a hall at St. Bernard's Park, and when Tracy sees it she connects the hall with her visions, concluding that it's about to collapse.
  • Psychic Powers: Tracy's ESP is established in the opening pages, when she's hiking with her mother and mentions a shed over the next hump, despite never having been up there before and swearing that Mr. Bailey didn't tell her about it. Helen relates this to her neighbour Pamela, who suggests she may be psychic.
  • Race Against the Clock: By the time Tracy puts the pieces together, she has only half an hour to save everyone.
  • Red Herring: The conflicts over Mr. Bailey's mine, first between him and Fairview Realty who want the land for their own reasons, and later between him and the environmental protesters after he decides to open it as a tourist site. Tracy (and, theoretically, the reader) is led to believe that either of his opponents may be willing to blow it up to get their way, and connects this with her premonitions when she realises that what's she's been seeing is a cave-in.
  • The Reveal: Tracy's dreams were not hinting toward a bombing: it was an earthquake, 7.1 on the Richter scale.
  • Smash Cut: The penultimate chapter ends quite abruptly as Tracy's premonitions come to fruition. It then cuts away to Mr. Klein driving to Melbourne, a few hours later, as he hears a news report on the earthquake.
  • Spider-Sense: Tracy's power kicks in like this after Andy suggests going down the other side of the hill.
    Suddenly something warned Tracy not to. The feeling swept over her in a wave so intense that all her nerves were taut with it.
  • Spoiler Title: The impending disaster is easy to guess if you know what a shatterbelt is, and if you don't, Mr. Bailey explains it in the second chapter.
  • Waif Prophet: Tracy fits this pretty well.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Tracy's desperate attempt to stop Andy and Sally taking an unsafe path down the hill only convinces them to further, leading to Andy's fall. Ironically, she might have been more successful if she had mentioned ESP, since they were both established to be believers.

Aftershock! provides examples of

  • Adult Fear: Helen has to watch Tracy washed away by the wave while she's trapped in an overturned car.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Tracy is hesitant to tell anyone of her "tidal wave" vision, attempting to find other excuses to keep her family away from the beach (in particular Heidi, who already lives there). But she's forced to come clean after she wakes up from a nightmare in front of Helen.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Tracy, again, this time in response to a vision of herself on a stretcher. It appears on the original cover.
  • Distant Finale: Three years after the flood, Helen has married Dennis Barnes and they're still living in Cascade Gully, which has evidently recovered. Tracy has not had a premonition since, and hopes she never will.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Tracy's dreams continue after the quake, this time involving a Giant Wall of Watery Doom which she assumes to be the result of an aftershock to the south.
  • Earthquakes Cause Fissures: Downplayed. The cracks are described as "wide as a hand-span".
  • Excited Show Title!
  • Hell Is That Noise: The beginning of the earthquake:
    The roar, when it came, convulsed and stunned the world. For a second or two beforehand there had been utter silence. The birds had suddenly ceased their songs, the dogs had stopped barking, the horses were standing tense and still.
    It started in the hills. Nobody had ever heard a sound like that before. It began as a rumble, a deep, deep thunder, as if some great god of the earth had stirred, and groaned in agony. But it grew with fearful speed, louder and louder, like a hundred jet planes taking off together. It swept down on the foothills and the city, on the streets and houses, on the people in St. Bernard's Park. It was in the air above them and all around them, and in the ground beneath their feet. The air thundered and vibrated, the earth rocked.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Tracy expresses this to Helen, even in spite how many lives she saved. She apparently gets her wish at the end, after a head injury during the flash flood.
  • I Should Have Been Better: Tracy expresses some guilt about not being smart enough to figure out the earthquake. "I couldn't get the message, not until the very last minute when Sally showed me the sundial and the motto. And even then I got it wrong." Helen tries to remind her that she saved hundreds of lives and that no one will forget that, but Tracy remains fixated on her failure to save Kazan.
  • Immediate Sequel: After the Previously On chapter, Chapter 2 picks up right from when the quake begins.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: Tracy failed to save Kazan in the earthquake. In the climax, she risks her life to save Puddles from the flash flood.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Helen's boyfriend Dennis Barnes. Tracy didn't like him much in the previous book, but starts to come around after he takes them in after the earthquake.
  • Previously On: The book opens on a condensed version of Tracy's actions on the day of the fete, ending right where that chapter did.
  • Perspective Flip: Where the first book skipped past the earthquake itself and gave us a news report in the aftermath of it, Chapter 2 shows it from Tracy's perspective.
  • The Reveal: What Tracy thinks is a tidal wave is actually coming from a damaged reservoir in the valley and it's going to flood what's left of Cascade Gully.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: The first confirmed casualty of the earthquake is Pamela's pet dog Kazan, who was chained to the wall of the hall that collapsed at St Bernard's Park. Andy had tried to rescue him by getting some bolt cutters, but Tracy knew that he wasn't going to make it back in time.
  • Scenery Gorn: Cascade Gully, during the Earthquake and in the aftermath, is described in harrowing detail.
  • Shipper on Deck: Helen is a particularly embarrassing one for Tracy and Andy.
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