________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 12. . . .November 19, 2010.


Swampy Jo.

Jennifer Rouse Barbeau.
Sudbury, ON: Your Scrivener Press, 2010.
196 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-896350-40-0.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Tanya Boudreau.





It comes as a shock when Paul asks for me at Aunt Cassie's door one dark February night. It is ten o'clock, too late to go out for a walk in the park.

"Go," Aunt Cassie urges, pushing me toward the door.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Madison at the end of the hall, staring us down until the very moment the front door clicks shut.

Outside, the winter wind howls off the lake, moaning around us like a herd of ghosts. We must speak very loudly, our heads pressed close together, in order to understand one another.

"I wanted you to know I think you're great," Paul says.

"What?" I strain to hear.

"I said you're great!" Paul hollers. "Really. No matter what anyone else might think or say. You've got something other people don't."

I cannot believe my ears; surely the wind has fooled me. This is so out of character for Paul. No one ever tells me things like this. I must have misunderstood.

Fourteen-year-old Sarah Joanne Bradley (nicknamed Swampy Jo) feels responsible for her mom's depression and her dad's desertion. After living in a series of "crap shacks" for the last nine years, she is now living in the basement of her aunt's house. Before school even begins, she attracts the attention of her cousin's older boyfriend, Paul, known for the substances he carries around in his pockets. It seems like destiny has caused Sarah and Paul's destructive paths in life to cross, but it's Sarah's decision to help Paul come to terms with his past that starts her on a path to heal her own life. The past is a haunting force in this story, where struggles with eating disorders, depression, and sexual abuse are destroying people's lives. Some characters choose to keep their feelings inside while another spray paints them over walls in the park for others to see. Although the black and white illustrations suit the dark, somewhat choppy feel of this story, the characters are drawn more like adults than teenagers, and it's hard to identify who is who in the illustrations. Readers who are interested in palmistry will enjoy learning more about Sarah and Paul through Aunt Cassie's palm readings. Others may find it implausible.


Tanya Boudreau is a librarian at the Cold Lake Public Library in Cold Lake, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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