________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007


For Now.

Gayle Friesen.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2007.
247 pp.,  pbk. & hc., $8.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-133-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55453-132-5 (hc.).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Ruth Latta.

**** /4


My mother, who loved nothing more than to have everything in its place, was curiously okay with a gaping hole in one of her walls...Most days I'd come home and find wooden flute and sitar music wafting through the plaid blanket/yoga mat wall like the fumes of the lentil crap that boiled below in the kitchen, and I'd think, 'What happened to my life?' But everybody else seemed okay with it. Mom in her preggo yoga tights, Angela in her form-hugging Lululemons, Cal in his spandex. Okay, it didn't take a rocket scientist to see what was happening. Thanks to my looser pants, I was the only one getting enough oxygen to the brain.

Indeed, 15-year-old Jes, the narrator and central character of For Now, seems to be the only member of her blended family who is honest with herself and has a sense of humour. Author Gayle Friesen has written an insightful novel about a brave little soul paddling in her mother's wake.

     Once, Jes was part of a nuclear family that included her parents, herself and her younger sister, but, after her sister's death, the marriage broke up and everything changed. These days, the adults in her life seem childish, weak and self-centred. There are no grandparents who might provide a refuge or an example of a lasting marriage. A high school psychology teacher who seems at first to have answers to life's questions gradually disintegrates during his divorce. Stepfather Cal treads softly in his role but is so vulnerable that Jes gets tired of pussyfooting around him. Jes's father, who shares his daughter's sadness and longing for their former family life, is able to recreate, for himself, the family configuration that he lost. He is dating a woman who has two young
daughters, a choice that, in effect, excludes Jes.

     When Jes's mother gets pregnant at age 40, she pressures Jes to be "okay" with the news and to give up her room to the baby, even though Jes has already moved once to make room for Angela, daughter of her stepfather, Cal. The mother, a mental health therapist, subtly blames Jes for any problems in the family. As the discomforts of her pregnancy worsen, Jes's mother expects mothering from her daughter.

     Jes is so witty and full of spirit that the novel is amusing, but the light style is a veneer on a depressing theme about adult abdication and young people parenting themselves and each other.

     Since the novel, For Now, is a sequel to an earlier work, Losing Forever, the author must fill in some background. Friesen chooses a clever approach - a prologue that sounds like a fairy tale. After the death of their second girl child, "they [the prince and princess] fled to different parts of the kingdom and to different places in their hearts. The princess found another prince - more like an early or duke - and believed she could love him forever.... The remaining daughter was a darned good sport about it."

     Although the story filtered through Jes's first person perspective and is, therefore, limited, Friesen skillfully inserts details and incidents which provide a broader picture. In doing so, she gives readers the satisfaction of feeling smart by picking up on things that Jes doesn't notice. We are shown how Angela's beauty, New Age enthusiasms, fashion sense and tendency to seduce other girls' boyfriends get on Jes's nerves. Yet, at the same time, the author shows Angela being tactful about Jes's mother's bad cooking and lending Jes attractive clothing for an important date. Her tiresome knowledgeability on health and nutrition reflects a genuine concern for Jes's mother. The reader perceives what Jes ignores, that Angela wants the blended family to work and must have her reasons for that hope. When Angela rescues another teenager from date rape, her past troubles and her mother's negligence come to light.

     The growth of mutual respect between the girls is the key plot line. At the time Jes's mother gives birth, Angela is considering leaving the family and re-entering a bad situation. Jes persuades her to stay. "Angela, maybe you ought to consider who's going to help her [the baby] accessorize if you're not around," she jokes. As the novel ends, the reader sees that the infant sister will be the glue that holds the family together - at least for now.

Highly Recommended.

Memories Stick (Ottawa, Baico Publishing, 2007, ISBN 1-897357-77-X, $18.95
sc, baico@bellnet.ca) is the fourth novel in Ruth Latta's mystery series for grown-ups.

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

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