________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 13 . . . . February 16, 2007


A Very Fine Line.

Julie Johnston.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2006.
198 pp., cloth, $24.99.
ISBN 978-88776-746-3.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Jennifer Ariel Caldwell.

**** /4


“But,” Aunt Lydia was saying, “Rosalind’s always been such a clever little piece.”

“Oh, she’s clever enough. It’s just that she’s taken to – how should I put it – knowing things, although she denies it.”

My mother and my aunt didn’t know I was sitting on the floor behind the sofa, peeling off little pieces of wallpaper, which I did partly because I was lonely, and partly because I wanted us to get new wallpaper.

“Oh, dear,” Lydia said. She drew in a breath. “Let’s hope not. I’m sure it’s nothing. She’s just at that difficult age. I wouldn’t worry.”

Adele said, “She’s not like the others, nothing like.”

“Well, watch and wait,” Aunt Lydia said, getting up to leave. “That’s all you can do for now.” There was a pause while she looked for her gloves. “As you know, Adele, there’s sometimes a very fine line between the real world and, well, shall we just say, the world of make-believe.” 


Julie Johnston addresses issues of identity and destiny in her delicately written, suspenseful novel, A Very Fine Line. The dramatic plot unfolds slowly, as the 12-year-old heroine learns that her genteel family and small-town life are not as straightforward as they might seem.

     Rosalind (Ros) and her five older sisters live with their widowed mother in Kempton Mills, ON, in 1941. The disappearance of schoolgirl Faye Wirt indicates that the small town isn’t as idyllic as it appears. Johnson skillfully uses details to convey the setting and hints at undercurrents of family deception and strain just beyond Ros' (and the readers') reach. Ros learns family secrets through eavesdropping and puts the pieces together, narrating in a clear, unique, and compelling voice.

     Slowly, Johnston reveals that the first daughter, Lucy, was born with a mental illness and was immediately given to her strange great-aunts. Ros disobeys her mother and visits the creepy great-aunts where she learns about her own destiny as the clairvoyant seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. Although Ros has experienced odd incidents (healing her own cuts, a sudden wave of stomach-gripping insight about the missing Faye Wirt, and accidental “parlour tricks”), she refuses to believe that she is destined to have second sight because she believes she’s the sixth daughter.  

     When she learns the truth, she confronts her mother, who’s in deep denial about Lucy. Ros decides that just as her mother rejects her role as Lucy's mother, Ros will deny her gender and become a boy. As "Ross," she will avoid her fate as the clairvoyant seventh daughter. Ros’s commitment to her plan, despite family outrage, violence, harassment and humiliation at school, lead her mother to hire a private tutor and keep Ros home. 

     After Ros’s bout of scarlet fever, the doctor recommends the family continue to humour Ros’s identity choice. The doctor recommends Adrian Hope as a tutor and suggests that Ros's true identity be kept a secret. However, Ros finds herself caught in a swirling mess of adolescent emotion. After a motorcycle ride with her arms wrapped around Adrian, her boyish shell begins to crack from the inside out. Horrifyingly, he catches sight of her naked in the pond, and, after he disappears, she finds blood trickling down her leg- her first period. Johnson goes through this tactfully, and readers will appreciate Johnson's circumspection and delicacy.

     Ros's body betrays her when she loses her determination to be a boy, and she accepts her original gender. She visits Adrian to tell him the truth about “Ross,” and he firmly explains his belief that clairvoyance doesn't exist. Ros takes comfort in this, but it’s not enough to prevent further clairvoyant incidents. As the book draws to a close, she has several more premonitions involving her sister and Faye Wirt. Ultimately, she must accept that she cannot change the course of destiny, even if she has a glimpse of what's to come. 

     Young women between 14 and 18 will be enthralled with this slightly dark story of self-acceptance and the power to change. The complicated plot will keep readers guessing to the end.

Highly Recommended.

Jennifer Ariel Caldwell, a youth librarian at Vancouver Public Library, chairs the Young Readers’ Choice Award Society of BC.


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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