________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 12 . . . . February 17, 2006


Me and the Blondes.

Teresa Toten.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2006.
221 pp., pbk., $16.00.
ISBN 0-14-305307-8.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***½ /4

Reviewed from prepublication copy.


I saw them right off. As soon as I stepped into the room really.

They were that blonde.

Three of them, right in the centre of the room.


One hot-pink-and-lime-green Lilly Pulitzer print dress and two pairs of pastel-coloured hot pants. They wouldn't let us wear hot pants at Dufferin. I made a note to get myself a pair before they were over. Nice grouping. Blondes always make nice groupings, especially when they colour coordinate. These Blondes were blonder than blonde. Okay, maybe Lavender Hot Pants had a bit of help with the streaks, hairdresser, not drugstore, but these girls could power up a blackout. I wondered if they were the Blondes for the whole grade or just for this class. I had a gut feeling that they would have figured out how to all be in the same class together. Jesus God, I'd hit the motherlode in my own homeroom.


Sophia, who would like to be known as Sophie, has attended far too many schools over her junior high years. Now, in 1974, stinging from constant rejection because her alcoholic father is doing time for murder (unjustly convicted as Sophie sees it), she is determined to forge a new identity as she begins yet again at a new school. She and her beautiful, dramatic, Bulgarian mother decide to pretend that Sophie's father has died. If only they can get their story straight, everyone will sympathize with them, but of course, the devil is in the details. Sophie attaches herself to the blonde clique in her homeroom and, in a series of lucky and well planned events, gradually gains their friendship and trust. Sophie's driving determination and basketball skills land the group on the first string of the junior team, and connections in the Bulgarian community provide her with her job at Mike's soda fountain. She fends off the unwanted attentions of what her delightful, doting Aunties (her mother's best friends) call a "practice boyfriend" while she swoons with desire for a grade twelve football player who is sleeping with his girlfriend. While helping Madison, the leader of the blondes, to find her biological mother, Sophie is recognized, and the truth about her father comes out, but too late, however, for tragedy, as Madison is not only grateful for Sophie's discovery of her grandmother, but she also claims Sophie as a true friend.

     Sophie is a fabulous character whose self-deprecating wit, adoration of her seriously over-the-top amusing aunties and her insightful critique of mid '70's high school life will have readers rolling in the aisles with laughter and the nervous tension of how painful growing up can be. Magda, Sophie's mother, and her flirting friends will horrify and yet comfort readers whose parents are no doubt equally old-fashioned and loving. The blondes, as in real life, seem on the surface to be interchangeable, but as Sophie gets to know them, their personalities emerge. Toten captures perfectly the easy camaraderie of girls who trust each other enough to play Truth and Dare and challenge each other to develop into good people. Stoner Phil, the groovy English teacher is a bit of a cliché, the only false step in this novel. Surely there are some great teachers out there, the memory of whose humanity could be woven into a YA plot.

     Sophie's invocations of Jesus' name are more like prayers than swearing, but Mike's working-man's vocabulary is as colourful in 1974 as it would be today in real life. Madison's proper, sophisticated, legal family is more polite with words but less emotionally open.

     Sophie begins several letters to her father, pushed to contact him as his bi-weekly phone calls seem to be destroying her mother's well being, but ends up crumpling them up. After thirteen tries she finally manages to bus to Kingston and take a taxi to the penitentiary to see her father, as she has matured enough to deal with his incarceration. Over the grade 9 year, Sophie learns to distinguish between the lies that she tells, the place holders, as Mike puts it, that are there until others can accept the truth, and the eternal truth of friendship and love.

     Although Me and the Blondes is set in Toronto, Sophie's year could take place in any large city high school. Readers of all backgrounds, especially girls, will slip comfortably into Sophie's world and leave only reluctantly.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall, a recently retired teacher-librarian turned Winnipeg bookseller, remembers vividly the blonde cliques and wishes she had had Sophie's courage.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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