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Sarah Ellis
Toronto, Ground wood/Douglas & Mclntyre, 1991. 124pp, cloth, $14.95
ISBN 0-88899-146-0. CIP

Grades 6 to9/Ages 11 to 14

Reviewed by Valerie Nielsen

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

Sarah Ellis had an uncanny ability to get inside the heads of her junior high school age protagonists. In Pick-up Sticks, thirteen-year-old Polly Toakley has to deal with a move from the house in Vancouver that she and mother have lived in since she was born. She must also deal with leaving the elderly owner of the house, Mrs. Protheroe, and her mentally disabled son Ernie, whose warm presence has provided Polly with the affection and security of an extended family. As well, there is the frightening thought of having to change schools in the middle of junior high and leave behind her bosom companion, Vanessa, who is in the throes of an unrequited love for Mr. Taylor, their eighth grade English teacher.

The search for an apartment that Polly's mother, a stained-glass artist and a single parent, can afford becomes a battleground on which mother and daughter reach an impasse. Polly accuses her mother of having made selfish and unworkable decisions: to have a baby, to remain unmarried, to become an artist. In a passion of self-righteous rage she decides to take up the offer of her wealthy Uncle Roger and move in with his family. Despite a luxurious room of her own, a fridge full of deli delights and a household jammed with electronic equipment, Polly is homesick for her old hectic life with Mum in the shabby house, and for her good friend Ernie.

Ellis sprinkles her story with care­fully drawn minor characters, including Polly's narcissistic cousin Stephanie, her materialistic Aunt Barbie, and smug, workaholic Uncle Roger. Theirs is a family which lacks all the elements that cannot be purchased, and it does not take Polly long to realize what she has given up. There is an exciting climax to the novel, which in no way forfeits the realism Ellis is careful to maintain throughout the story. The resolution avoids sentimentality and leaves us with the feeling that the relationship between mother and daughter is stronger and more mature than when the novel began.

Ellis understands the anxieties of early adolescents, and just how those anxieties are exacerbated by our trou­bled times. She has an excellent ear for "teen talk" and does not condescend to the reader with easy stereotypes or pat solutions. Middle school readers who enjoyed Ellis' previous young adult novels The Baby Project andNext-Door Neighbours (Ground wood /Douglas & Mclntyre, 1989) will find another engaging heroine in Polly Toakley, and the novel a satisfying read.

Valerie Nielsen, Winnipeg, Man.
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