CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 12 . . . . February 17, 2006
Tattoo Heaven. (SideStreets).
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2005.
160 pp., pbk. & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55028-902-0 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55028-903-9 (cl.).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Darleen Golke.
That Sunday I knew what I wanted to do. The minute my father and I walk through Nicole's front door I announce, "I want a tattoo." Nicole and my father just look at me and then at each other, their eyes wide. I guess this isn't what they were expecting, not after last Sunday's slip about being together for six months. They probably thought I'd never want to go to Nicole's again. In a way they're right. Except that Nicole has something I want and this is the only way I can get it.
"Well, your little girl has changed her mind at last. What made you decide?" Nicole finally says.
“It doesn't matter, does it? I just want one." I can't explain it to her. And I don't really think I should have to. It's my business why I suddenly want a tattoo. I didn't want a tattoo at first because of my mother. I didn't want her to see the mark of my father's new girlfriend on my skin. But if my mother wouldn't mind giving Theresa her bone marrow, then why should I mind giving Nicole my skin?
Two days into summer vacation, 14-year-old Jackie's father leaves home explaining, "I just can't keep living in this house." Jackie acknowledges clues about her "parents' unhappiness" appeared over the last year - their lack of conversation, her father doing his own laundry and sleeping on the couch; her mother looking "haggard, with dark, puffy bags under her eyes," often not bothering to get dressed. Her mother merely explains that "people grow apart," unable to articulate what went wrong. "The silence just creeped in, little by little, over the years." Turning to her self-confident best friend, Katie, and her horny boyfriend, Alex, Jackie finds little sympathy as they tell her to "lighten up" and get used to changes.
Jackie spends Sundays with her father and his "way younger," tall, slender, with "long blond hair" tattoo artist girlfriend, Nicole. She marvels at "how clueless [her] father is. How could he think [she'd] enjoy watching him and Nicole flit around like a couple of lovebirds?" His handing her an envelope of money for her mother seems like "exchanging me and my mother for Nicole" and then "giving us money to make up for it." Nevertheless, she admires Nicole's casual elegance and her successful Tattoo Heaven enterprise.
To Jackie's chagrin, her mother offers housecleaning services in the neighbourhood, soon agreeing to work exclusively as housekeeper next door for the Desjardins and their leukemia-stricken daughter, Theresa. As her mother embraces the housekeeping role, she urges Jackie to befriend the sickly Theresa. Although initially reluctant because of a long-standing aversion to illness, Jackie visits Theresa and gradually realizes that, isolated as Theresa is, she demonstrates an "easy acceptance of her condition." Jackie wonders, am "I too resigned to all the changes in my life - my parents are separated, my mother's obsessed with Theresa and her illness, my father is in love and acting like a teenager with his new girlfriend." However, when her mother considers volunteering to be tested as a bone marrow donor for Theresa, Jackie, furious with her mother, jealously rebels by asking Nicole to give her a butterfly tattoo.
Trying to introduce a little colour into Theresa's sterile world, her "life in a permanent cocoon without any spot of colour," Jackie shows the vibrantly hued tattoo to an enchanted Theresa. As Jackie examines her situation, she discovers her friendship with Katie unfulfilling and her relationship with Alex frustrating, but her growing connection with Theresa holds the promise of true friendship. Acquiring some temporary tattoos from Nicole, she boldly offers to apply Theresa's chosen angel tattoo, carefully following Nicole's directions. Despite Mrs. Desjardins' horror at Jackie's brashness, Theresa's smile makes Jackie "feel incredibly powerful, like I've given her something no one else could give her." "The whole summer has been about gaining colour. My father gained it with Nicole, my mother with her job."
Tattoo Heaven joins Weber's Klepto and Split in Lorimer's “SideStreets” series, short novels on contemporary issues. Weber uses the tattoo motif to create connections between Jackie and the significant people in her life. As narrator, Jackie reveals her confusion about her parents' separation and choices, about her relationships, and about her own hopes and desires. Although Jackie is an appealing protagonist, most of the secondary characters are rather ordinary. The well-paced prose and realistic dialogue combine to present issues of family breakup, friendship, illness, and self-discovery that should appeal to early teen readers, even if Jackie's problems resolve a little too neatly.
Darleen Golke, a librarian "between assignments," lives in Abbotsford, BC.
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