________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 19 . . . . May 27, 2005

cover Queen of the Toilet Bowl. (Orca Currents).

Frieda Wishinsky.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
104 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55143-364-8.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Karen Rankin.

*** /4


I chose this high school because it was better, because there were no gangs roaming the halls. And it was true, there were no gangs of girls with “Go to Hell” tattooed across their backs or snarling guys with knives. But there were gangs of girls with eyes that shut you out and voices that sneered and laughed at you. They didn’t beat you up or steal your money, but their looks felt like hard punches to your stomach. I couldn’t tell Mom what I’d overheard at the lockers today. She had enough to deal with. My little brother, Lucas, was a whiny pain. And Mom was always tired. “I’m going to my room to do homework,” I told her.

“Good,” said Mom. But I didn’t start on my homework. I flopped down on my bed and stared at a picture of a butterfly I had snapped for photography class. I’d seen the butterfly perched on a rose last spring.

After I snapped the picture, it flew away. I wished I was that butterfly. I wished I could fly away.

After her father’s death when she was nine years old, Renata emigrated from Brazil to North America with her mother and little brother. Now 14, Renata and her small family live in a cramped, urban apartment. Renata’s mother works uncomplainingly to provide Renata and her brother with every opportunity possible in their new country. In her first year at an “excellent” high-school in a wealthy urban neighbourhood, Renata is faced with racism, stereotyping, and bullying. The nasty comments start when Karin, another student at High Road High, learns that Renata’s mother is a cleaning woman. Karin, who has “a smile as tight as a fist,” takes singing lessons and intends to try out for the lead role in the school’s musical production. Renata’s best friend, Liz, has recently discovered that Renata has “an amazing” voice. When Liz convinces Renata to go to the try-outs, Renata wins the lead. Karin, assigned a lesser role and named Renata’s understudy, wants to get Renata, “the only one standing in her way,” out of the play altogether. Karin does her best to disparage Renata, first by accusing her of theft and then by putting a belittling photo of her mother on the internet. Renata’s history class has been studying how Marie Antoinette’s life and death were affected by rumors and lies. At first, Renata despairs over Karin, saying, “The more I read, the more I worried. Marie Antoinette was a queen, and even she was powerless to stop false rumors. If she couldn’t, how could I?” Eventually, mustering her self-confidence and pride in her mother, Renata decides that she will not bow to Karin’s cruel intimidation. Instead, she comes up with an open, public, and honest way to turn Karin’s cruelty – rather than her mother’s lowly job – into a shameful thing.

     While they are both somewhat less than “fully rounded,” Renata and Liz are believable characters. Though simply drawn, Renata’s mother, brother, and other peripheral characters are similarly credible. Karin, whose motivation is explained more fully near the end of the book, feels too much like a stereotypical, teenaged villain through most of the story.

     Queen of the Toilet Bowl is published by Orca as part of their “Currents” series of hi-lo books for reluctant readers aged 10 to 14. As such, it has a simple linear plot with an analogical (heuristic) sub-thread of Marie Antoinette. Queen of the Toilet Bowl is a fast-paced, simply told story with a satisfying ending.


Karen Rankin is a Toronto writer and editor of children’s stories.

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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.