________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008

cover Call Me Mimi.

Francis Chalifour.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2008.
180 pp., pbk., $14.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-823-1.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.

excerpt:

As soon as I walked into the grand ballroom (theme: salute to Flowers), I realized I’d made a colossal mistake.

“Ohmigawd!” said Macy. “Is that you, Mimi?” Macy, of the brown satin (Black is so yesterday) off-the- shoulder dress, her glossy blonde hair held back by a fresh camellia. Macy, who had never said a civil word to me.

My face was frozen into a frightened half-smile. I was afraid to move in case she struck. A snake with the power to make me a laughingstock with the tiniest wry twist of her iridescent mouth.

“It is you! I didn’t recognize you under all that makeup. Wow, is that nail polish ever red, and the lipstick! Oh, I just love that green dress against your skin. Vintage?

It was vintage alright. But not in a good way, as Macy well knew. It was my mother’s dress from when she was pregnant with me. What had felt silky and sort of Mary Quant Swinging London, with a big pussycat bow under the chin, all of a sudden felt like a deflated parachute.

“It’s nice and roomy. Mine’s so tight, I don’t know how I’ll be able to dance.” This was clearly not a problem I was going to have to face. I wanted to pry up one of the cabbage roses on the vast rug with my toe and disappear under it. The hopeful makeup felt like mud on my face. What was I thinking? What was I thinking?

 

In Chalifour’s latest novel, we meet Mimi Morrisette, a 17-year-old girl who is struggling to know herself and to gain a sense of self-acceptance in spite of the taunts and jeers that she has endured throughout her high school years. Painfully conscious of her obesity, Mimi has spent her entire time at St. Mary’s Academy for Girls trying to avoid the hurtful and humiliating barbs that her classmates routinely fling at her. Against her better judgement, she decides to go to the prom where her tormentors manage to reduce her to tears and an early exit in no time. Mimi finds solace, as she often does, in her daydreams where celebrities such as Celine Dion and the Queen of England admire and respect her and value her friendship.

      There is one other daydream that Mimi cherishes: the dream of some day knowing her father who has always been nothing more to her than an anonymous sperm donor. Desperate to know something about this man, whoever he might be, Mimi deceives her mother and flees to Toronto where she hopes to track down the mystery man whom she longs to know. While she makes her share of mistakes along the way, as the summer unfolds, Mimi gradually begins to recognize the truth about bullies and the power that she has allowed them to have over her, and she comes to see herself in a different light.

      Mimi’s search for identity and self-worth is one with which readers will readily empathize, and the way in which she retreats into her fantasy lives, featuring herself as she so desperately wishes she could be, will also elicit understanding. Chalifour adeptly portrays the deliberate cruelty of the teen girls who willfully harass Mimi, and he demonstrates the tremendous impact that that kind of bullying can have on its victims. It is a true challenge for Mimi to overcome the negative images she has of herself and to recognize that it is possible for others to see good in her and to love her for that, despite her size. As she makes friends in Toronto and discovers that they, too, suffer from insecurity, loneliness and self-doubt, she learns how to reach out to them in their need, and she grows in her understanding of herself and her capabilities.

      While readers will mostly sympathize with Mimi, the book’s secondary characters remain largely one-dimensional and undeveloped. Tante Amelie, Luc and Fiona all have issues of their own yet they never truly emerge as well-rounded individuals, and the contributions that they make to the plot are peripheral and only briefly explored. Even Mimi’s growth and quiet transformation during the summer come as somewhat of a surprise since there is very little that transpires to actually lead her to these revelations. Nevertheless, the story still conveys an important truth about learning to accept oneself and not letting others define you.

Recommended.

Lisa Doucet is a bookseller at Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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