________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 8 . . . . December 7, 2007


Out of Order.

Robin Stevenson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
221 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-693-7.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Jennifer Ariel Caldwell.

**** /4


That night, I undress in front of the bathroom mirror. I look at myself, trying to be objective. My ribs are sharply outlined, my chest bony, my shoulders knobby, my arms and legs long and angular. See, I tell an imaginary Max, I know I’m skinny. I can see I’m too skinny. I’m not crazy. I just don’t want to get fat, that’s all.

Mom knocks on the door. “Sophie? Are you almost done in there? I wouldn’t mind taking a quick bath before I go to bed.”

I pull an oversize t-shirt over my head, brush my teeth and retreat to my bedroom. I drop to my knees and jerk open the stiff bottom drawer of my dresser. All the stuff Zelia gave me – the stuff she stole – is crammed in here. I scoop it out – makeup, jewelry, sunglasses – and I wonder if I should get rid of it.

Underneath it all lies a red photo album. I run my hand over the cheap plastic cover and try to remember when I last looked at these pictures. Not since we left Georgetown. A lifetime ago…

… I wish Mom would come into my room, sit on my bed, and talk to me like she used to talk to the old Sophie Keller. I want to ask her why those girls used to call me fat and why I believed them. I want to know why they wrote those words on my locker. I want everything to feel okay between us again.

I look at her, standing there in her nightdress, a towel tied around her wet hair. I don’t know why I never told her about the bullying. I just never told anyone.

“Goodnight,” I say.

Chickenshit. Dyke. Fat. Sophie Keller wanted to leave the bullying behind when she moved to Victoria, BC, for grade 10. During the summer, she concocted a new image for herself, a shell that would ensure she fit in. Compelling, deftly crafted Out of Order opens as Sophie starts school after a summer of intense dieting.

     In the first week of school, Sophie realizes she can “pass” as one of the popular, nearly identical girls similar to the bullies in Ontario. But exciting, crazy, beautiful Zelia Keenan wants to be Sophie’s new best friend. Zelia dares Sophie to panhandle, steal, and get her bellybutton pierced, but Sophie’s conscience prevents her from throwing herself into Zelia’s games wholeheartedly.

     Sophie and Zelia are more alike than they realize: neither one really addresses the major issues in her life. Sophie thinks the skinniness she’s wrought on herself through eating disorders protects her from bullying. Zelia’s wildness covers up her insecurities, self-doubt, and anger at her mother and unknown father. Sophie’s beautiful narrative voice expresses her innermost thoughts with honesty and candor, situating the reader in her head, and colours the reader’s understanding of Zelia with Sophie’s tinted lenses. Author Robin Stevenson has brilliantly created a believable protagonist, a powerful antagonist, and a finely balanced cast of supporting characters. All the characters show believable flaws and make equally compelling attempts to make up for them.

     Sophie realizes that Zelia’s spiraling out of control. When Zelia needs a place to stay, Sophie’s work-from-home psychologist mother agrees to let her live with them for a few days. Zelia decides they should play psychologist in Sophie’s mother’s office, and in the playacting tells Sophie that she’s involved romantically with her own mother’s boyfriend, Michael. Sophie’s mother catches Zelia looking through her files for info on Michael and demands that she leave. Zelia and Sophie fight, and after Zelia doesn’t turn up at school, Sophie finds out that Zelia had attempted suicide.

     Throughout the book, Sophie spends time with two other teens at the horse stable where she finds peace as she rides. As her relationship with Zelia deteriorates, Sophie deepens her relationships with Max and Tavish. Max encourages Sophie to eat, to stand up for herself and to be honest in her relationship with Zelia. Sophie’s friendship with Max also challenges Sophie to examine her sexuality. Sophie’s realistic conclusion is that she’s not sure of her place on the sexuality spectrum, a perspective that is rarely treated with such forthright delicacy in teen fiction.
     Sophie’s introspection and good sense lead her to question her Zelia-inspired actions, her sense of identity, and the extreme steps she takes avoid bullying. The intergenerational relationships between Sophie and Zelia with their mothers, and Sophie’s mother and grandmother together all provide a multi-faceted view of the struggle of strong women and girls passing through different stages of their lives. The relationship between Sophie and Zelia illustrates how power in teen relationships ebbs and flows as life knocks them through different situations, and how being honest with themselves and each other can lead to true friendship. Stevenson addresses teen suicide and depression, sexuality, peer pressure, and eating disorders in realistic, believable ways that readers of all caloric intakes will relate to.

     This novel is impossible to put down.

Highly Recommended.

Jennifer Ariel Caldwell attends SFU’s creative writing program, volunteers for the Red Cedar Award, and works on several library projects in Vancouver, 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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