________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006


Out of Focus.

Margaret Buffie.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2006.
239 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55337-956-X (pbk.), ISBN 1-55337-955-1 (cl.).

Subject Heading:
Alcoholism-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

**** /4


So did I win that round? Maybe. But, let’s face it. I had to win every round. Yet somehow I didn’t feel as sure about everything. Would it be better to sell the place after we’d cleaned it and slapped on some paint? And if it did sell – if that’s what I really wanted – how long would it be before the money was gone and we were back to crappy apartments and Celia’s nights out? Something in my gut told me that this place was our only chance at normal life.

And that is all 16-year-old Bernice Dodd wants—a normal life. She isn’t yearning for a closet full of clothes, a shiny sports car or nightly parties. She doesn’t ache to be a rock star or a super-model, and she isn’t waiting for the most handsome guy in the world to fall in love with her. All she wants is a normal life, and that means a decent place to live, enough money for food and rent, and a mother who is there to make the meals and dole out cookies and band-aids. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, but as far as Bernie is concerned, she might as well be asking for a summer vacation on Jupiter.

     For several years, Bernie’s life has been anything but normal. It began when her dad started hitting the bottle and then his wife, Celia. Though he tried to get himself straight, the situation had already gone sideways, and he eventually left the family and moved back to Newfoundland. That’s when Celia fell apart and took up drinking herself. She went on binges, disappearing for days, so that it was up to Bernie to look after herself and her younger brother, Ally. Then Celia moved the family in with a new boyfriend, promptly became pregnant, and in no time that relationship had turned sour too. After that, things really fell apart. Celia shuffled her three children from one nightmare apartment to another every time she lost a crummy job because of her drinking, and it was up to Bernie to look after the kids and her alcoholic mother too.

     So when Celia stayed sober for four straight months and became engaged to nice, reliable, responsible Mario—the grocer, Bernie allowed herself to hope life was turning around. But on the eve of her wedding, Celia called it off and promptly got drunk.

     Looking through Celia’s papers for a wayward receipt, Bernie discovers a will in which her great aunt has left a fishing lodge to Celia. Seeing this as the last chance for survival, Bernie insists the family move there and try running it as a business. Celia resists, but when Bernie threatens to bring in social services, her mother is forced to go along with the plan.

     It is at the lodge that everyone in the family begins to recover—everyone except Bernie, that is. She has been forced to pick up the pieces for so long that she is all out of faith and trust, refusing to believe life can change, even though that is what she desperately wants. She becomes angrier with each passing day, alienating the very people she wants to be close to, and acting irrationally, so that she doesn’t even understand herself.

     Margaret Buffie has earned herself a reputation as a fantasy writer, so Out of Focus is a bit of a surprise—albeit as very pleasant one. The novel’s title reflects Bernie’s love for and dependence on photography. Snapping photos is her lone lifeline and the means by which she observes and analyzes her life. It is also her link to her past and her hope for the future. But it isn’t until she puts the camera down and starts looking at her world through her own eyes that she finally really sees it as it really is.

     Since Out of Focus is primarily a novel concerned with relationships and internal conflicts, character development is key. The cast is large, but all the characters are realistically drawn and evolve in a convincing manner. Likewise the plot unfolds naturally and comes to a credible resolution.

     Out of Focus is an excellent read.

Highly Recommended.

Kristin Butcher lives in Campbell River, BC, and writes for children.


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

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