________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006


Vivian Untangled.

Sarah Hartt-Snowbell.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2006.
127 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-894917-25-1.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

**½ /4



"Okay, Grandpa." I opened the glass door of the china cabinet. What a jumble of Stuff! There was an ashtray full of fishing lures, with dust clinging to their once brightly coloured feathers. Off to the side, I saw a sad-looking old radio with all its knobs missing, a sprinkling of dominos that had tumbled from a broken box and a few old prayer books. 'Ha', I thought. 'This ain't no regular mess. This is a holy mess!' On top of one of the prayer books, I saw a gold fountain pen and a silver bookmark that had gone all black from sitting around too long.

Grandpa shouted, "Hey! What's takin' so long? Y'buildin' the lamp from scratch?"

"I can't find it," I called back.

"Dang! I'll go check the front parlour," he said. That's what Grandpa calls his living room. I'll bet his mom and dad must have called it that too.

While Grandpa was in the front parlour, looking for the lamp, I went back to the china cabinet to take a better look at the gold pen. I picked it up and took off the cap. Then I replaced the cap and set the pen back on the shelf. I began to walk away...but slowly turned back. 'What the heck am I doing?' I picked up Grandpa's gold pen once more, hesitated a bit, and then slipped it into the pocket of my dungarees. He won't miss it. 'He probably didn't even know that it was sitting there in his holy-mess-cabinet'.

Poor Vivian - she just seems destined for one misadventure after another! If she's not being sent to the principal's office for lateness, then she's likely in the midst of some other mischief, such as being caught writing notes in class. And to make matters worse, not only does she get caught passing a note in class, but it turns out to be one in which she had made some unkind remarks about her teacher. This definitely does not help her cause with The Elephant (aka the principal)!

     And in addition to her school woes, Vivian soon has other things to worry about. For one, she overhears her parents arguing and thinks that they are planning a divorce. When she then finds a woman's name and phone number lying about the house, she assumes that her father is having an affair and figures that she ought to take matters into her own hands.

     Meanwhile, there is also the problem of the beautiful white diary in the window of Waverly Gifts. More than anything, Vivian wants that diary, but she can't see any way of acquiring the money she needs to get it until she finds a gold pen amongst all her grandfather's clutter and sells it to a classmate. Only after she has sold the pen and purchased the diary does she discover how much that very pen meant to her grandfather. At that point, she realizes that she must do everything she can to get it back and make things right.

     Young readers will sympathize with Vivian who is a likeable, albeit oftentimes misguided, character. They will be amused by her spirited antics and her indisputable knack for finding trouble despite her best efforts. Her unique relationship with her grandfather is skillfully depicted - it is wonderful to read about a young girl who spends cherished time with her grandfather learning various home repair skills and playing chess! Of course, grandfather's hurt and disappointment in Vivian when she finally confesses to taking the pen are fully believable. Her rocky relationship with Deena and Shelly, two girls from her class, is less convincingly portrayed and wasn't vital to the overall story. For adults reading the book, the dialogue between the various characters is often suggestive of the 1950's time period in which the book takes place. On the other hand, children may just think that the language is a little unnatural sounding. Nevertheless, it is a book which should entertain young readers who happen upon it.


Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.

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

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