________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005

cover

Carmen.

Carole Fréchette. Translated by Susan Ouriou.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2005.
108 pp., cloth, $16.95.
ISBN 0-88995-322-8.

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.

**** /4

excerpt:

"What would you like? Flowers? Chocolates? An evening on the town? What do you want on your Valentine’s? Go ahead and tell us."

So far today, Carmen has run a marathon, shoplifted for the first time, and thought she would end her days in prison. She doesn’t know whether to feel relieved or totally distraught. She stands rooted to the spot, her fingers clutching the loot in her pocket. She looks from the reporter to the camera, then back again. After a long pause, she hears herself say, "Today . . . I want . . . I . . . I want to be loved."Then she walks away. Walks, not runs. Not anymore.

 

Ironically, though she is the namesake of the theatrical diva, Carmen feels invisible in real life. Shy and unassuming, she dreads Valentine’s Day morning for the speech she must present to her History class, not to mention that she has to face the consequences of the love poem she slid into pale-eyed Simon’s locker. Carmen’s life takes an unexpected turn when, on her way to school, she begins to run . . . where, exactly, she doesn’t know. When she is unexpectedly accosted by a street reporter who asks her what she wants for Valentine’s Day; she stammers to the video camera, "Today . . . I want . . . I . . . I want to be loved." Embarrassed and confused by her unforeseen admission, she disappears for a night on a self-revelatory spree during which she befriends a local rock star and even learns to take a chance on the stage. As Carmen questions the nature of love, she becomes an inadvertent emblem of her city’s zeitgeist, and begins to unfold in the warmth of the spotlight.

     Carmen is a mature, wistful narrative that captures the nuances of an adolescent girl’s angst about love and identity. Fifteen-year-old Carmen is portrayed as a girl unsure about her stage presence in the world, especially in front of her crush, Simon; however, the audience will discern Carmen’s strength of character even when she cannot see it in herself. For instance, her courage becomes apparent when she tells off the popular Odile for her patronizing remarks:

Suddenly Odile Saint-Amour turned and dabbed a couple of pink spots on Carmen’s cheeks. "Give this a try, Carmen. It’ll give you some colour." Then she added with a condescending smile, "You know, if you wanted you could be really quite cute."

Without taking time to weigh her words, Carmen swiped at her cheeks with her sleeve and said, "I don’t want any. It looks trashy."

     Compelled to care about Carmen by seeing her strength when she forgets her fears, readers will cheer her on throughout her journey of self-discovery, especially when she finds what she was searching for where it was least expected.

     The novel’s ambiguous epilogue, in which Carmen continues to reflect about love, is complementary to the novel’s unanswerable questions about the topic. Instead of the predictable last-chapter hook-up with her crush, Carman remains unsure whether Simon really likes her, asking herself, "How can anyone be sure of that kind of thing?" However, having become more deeply rooted in her identity, it is clear that she feels more comfortable questioning the nature of relationships without feeling apologetic about her personality.

     Carmen will charm an extensive female audience because of the universality of its questions about love and relationships: How does love work, exactly? How is it possible to love people who don’t acknowledge your existence? And how much love does a person needs in order to feel loved? In particular, teenaged girls will relate to Carmen’s coming-of-age story because of her search, not only for the weight of love, but for her identity as a strong young woman.

Highly Recommended.

Pam Klassen-Dueck, a teacher, is currently enrolled in the pre-M.A. program at the University of Manitoba.

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.
 

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