________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007


Birthday Blues.

Anne Cassidy.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2005/2007.
241 pp., pbk., $10.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99938-0.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Joan Marshall.

** /4



"How come your boyfriend dumped you?"

"He went to uni one person and came back six weeks later as someone else. Trust me to be involved with the one person on the planet to have a personality transplant!"

I smiled and we made our way towards our street.

"Why don't you come over to my house. Afterwards, I mean," she said, gesturing towards the bag that held the pregnancy test.

I nodded.

"I might need a shoulder to cry on."

"Or someone to celebrate with!"

She went across the street swinging her carrier bag of drugs as though it was lightweight. My bag felt heavy, as if I was carrying some kind of metal a ball and chain perhaps. When I went in my house there was a Post-it note stuck to the hall mirror.

Gone shopping for a few hours. See you. Luv Mum XX

I sighed, pulled the pregnancy test out of my bag and walked upstairs towards the bathroom.


Dumped by her boyfriend of 10 weeks, 17-year-old Julia is relieved to discover that she is not pregnant. She rails against Ben and her best friend, Sara, who has betrayed her by hooking up with Ben. Julia gradually becomes friends with Tina, her fat, frumpy neighbour whose life revolves around her mother, Marilyn, who suffers from depression and who can't accept that Tina's stepdad, Ray, wants to end their marriage. When Tina turns out to be pregnant, Julia's cousin, Kath, a student nurse, helps to deliver the baby. As Tina is determined to hide the birth because Ray is the father, Kath and Julia leave the baby outside a doctor's office. Eventually the police and social services catch up to them. Tina and Marilyn are allowed to visit the baby while Tina goes back to school with the goal of becoming a nurse. Julia's mother takes her on a holiday to Crete. Marilyn snaps out of her preoccupation with stalking Ray. Kath's career suffers no real setback. And everyone lives happily ever after. Note that neither Ben nor Ray figure in either the denouement or the future.

     This story is set in London, England, although it could be any suburb of a large British city. The British idioms may give Canadian girls pause (mobile, queues, posh, rucksack, babygro, chemist, airers, nappies, etc.) but in general the meaning is clear from the context. Julia progresses from an innocent (how likely is it that Ben is her first boyfriend?), self-centered teen to a dedicated friend who appreciates people like Kath and Tina for their personalities rather than their superficial looks. Tina's self-deprecating humour and her devotion to helping her mother deal with mental illness make her a much more interesting character. The way she copes with the pregnancy and the personality changes that accompany it, even the fierce hiding of the pregnancy from her own mother, are very realistic. Marilyn's depression is depicted believably until the very end when Ray's news that he's marrying another woman snaps Marilyn out of it and she can cope with her new grandson. How she and Tina will cope with an infant, when Marilyn could barely get out of bed, is not addressed. Kath, the student nurse, is sensible and funny, cheerful and competent, which is fortunate as her presence when the baby is born is a major plot twist. How lucky can Julia be that her cousin is not only available to help, but also knows what to do and sets aside her professional ethics by not calling an ambulance because Tina doesn't want one? An older adult would have stopped that charade right there. Every few chapters the reader finds out how the police and social services are searching for the baby's mother, so the reader wonders for quite a while who the mother might be and then why she would abandon an infant. Several secondary characters like the policeman (not officer) who discovers the baby, the social worker, the foster mother and Pete and Greg (grade 10 boys whom the girls meet up with) seem almost superfluous to the story and don't deserve the attention the author gives them. Julia's mother is typically busy and absent. Ray is weirdly comic when one considers how he took advantage of Tina. The grammatically incorrect use of "me" instead of "I" is not only irritating, but also infuriating, adding nothing to the characterization of middle class British people.

      Told in the first person and full of vivid dialogue, this novel has an immediacy that will appeal to young teen girls for whom plot and emotion take precedence over realism and strong characters.


Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

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

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