CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 12 . . . . February 17, 2006
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2006.
210 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Children's stories, Canadian (English).
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.
It's not going to be the easiest thing in the world, but I'm going to go on talking about books and music and animals with Andrew in the cafeteria and on the way home. You can't believe how much he knows about primates and the cat family. I'll let Chuck go, if he has to, but Caroline will stick by me, and I have a funny feeling that it'll all be more or less okay. Not easy. But okay. Lisa says I'll end up feeling empowered, because I'll have had the guts - even wobbly guts - to move in my own direction. A while back, I said to you that I almost like Lisa. I like her a lot now. She's on my side. And yours. And Mom's. Maybe we're not such a weird family after all.
Well-known award-winning Maritime author Budge Wilson has given readers this gift of an excellent anthology of twelve short stories which examine the theme of friendship and also provide interesting insights into the psychology of teenagers. Each story can stand on its own or several could be studied to illustrate how a similar theme can be treated in a wide variety of ways.
As Wilson points out in her introduction, friends can be almost anyone and can be found in any number of places. Sometimes the least likely person can become a friend in the most unexpected way! Yet we have all had the experience of friends who are truly life-changing, and it is this depth of human relationships which Wilson endeavours to explore.
The narrators are both male and female which provides good balance in the stories. One story is written as a diary, another as a series of letters. All are contemporary in feel, and yet one is the recollection of a friendship and how it went wrong fifty years previously and still haunts the narrator. Interestingly, Wilson writes in such a way that the friendship described is not always obvious. In some stories, the friend is a contemporary in a school setting. But often the friendship is with someone much less 'traditional' - an adult neighbour, a teacher, a parent, even an animal.
In “Fear,” the main character utters only one line aloud in the entire story. In “The Music Festival,” the main characters barely know one another and never actually speak. It takes a tragedy to recognize a friend in “Lillian,” yet in “Maid of Honour,” friendship is found through the happy catalyst of a family wedding.
Wilson has taken a predictable young adult theme and has done the unpredictable with it. As her characters learn about the making, keeping, and sometimes losing of friends, they also understand themselves better. They learn to deal with their fears and seem to mature in front of the reader's eyes. Sometimes the friendships follow expected patterns; more often they are unusual and intriguing.
As Wilson says in the introduction to her book, "Sometimes it's hard to recognize a friend, nor is a friend always a person. A friend can be an animal or a thought or a way of looking at things. Friendships can be between very diverse people - of differing ages, lifestyles, sexes, races, and social classes. But a friend is someone you like, someone you want to spend time with or think about. Without that friend, you'd be less comfortable in your life, less safe. A friend is someone who listens to you when you talk, and who understands what you're saying."
This marvelous collection of short stories keeps the reader's interest and forces the reader to do some intelligent thinking both about the friendships described in the book and perhaps about the relationships in his or her own life.
Ann Ketcheson, a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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