________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery.

Susan Juby.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2008.
339 pp., pbk., $14.99.
ISBN 978-0-00-200709-2.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


“He’s going to talk to a Defiled,” whispered Rick. “You know, those people we told you about.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about that charmingly conspiratorial caste system in place at your high school.”

“It’s serious,” said Rick, who always thinks Ashton is making fun.

“What do you think?” Ashton asked Vanessa.

“I think someone should do something about defiling,” said Vanessa. “It’s totally barbaric and unfair. It ruins people’s lives.” Ashton turned to me. “Why are you getting involved? Isn’t defiling a long-standing thing at this school?”

“He’s worried this girl he likes is going to get defiled,” said Rick.

"The scrumptious older woman?” asked Ashton.

“The artiste?” Vanessa rolled her eyes.

“What?” I asked her. “I thought you wanted me to investigate. This was your idea.”

“You should investigate because you think defiling is wrong. Not because you think you’re going to score Dini Trioli. Because you’re not.”


Fourteen-year-old Sherman Mack loves women and girls, from his 30-year-old mother to the high school Trophy Wives, to his best friend Vanessa. Although his main goal is to gain early entrance to the Cafeteria class by excelling in his grade 9 cooking class, Sherman is sidetracked by a particularly nasty form of bullying in which girls are seemingly randomly “defiled” — their lives are destroyed by rumours, gossip and systemic rejection, not to mention physical assault. Sherman the detective jumps on the case immediately, but his bumbling surveillance techniques only lead to misunderstandings that nearly blow his cover. In the end, although Vanessa actually identifies and stops the original defiler, Sherman uncovers why the bullying continued, makes new friends and impresses everyone with his dinner party, including the teacher, who invites him into the Cafeteria class.

      Sherman is, like many young teenage boys, an absolute hoot, a laugh-out-loud funny character whose energy and determination in the face of repeated failures eventually lead him to solve the mystery and to force the bullies to expose themselves. Every teenage boy will identify with his embarrassment over his parent, his longing to connect with girls and his fear of the older students. The adult characters are sympathetic and generously kind. The coach verges on stereotype but redeems himself with his interest in stopping the bullying. Sherman’s irresponsible, loving, burlesque dancing mother comes to the rescue at the dinner party with Fred, their neighbour and Sherman’s mentor, who is a rock when Sherman needs conversation and actual help with cooking. The secondary high school students are all too realistic, from the pot dealer Ed whose office is one of the school bathrooms, to the confident big-men-on-campus lacrosse players and their gorgeous girlfriends, not all of whom (surprise!) are unapproachable. All, of course, are seen through Sherman’s eyes, in this first person narrative full of delicious dramatic irony. The final scene, in which Sherman prepares and serves dinner to a mixed group of invited guests, while the defiling problem explodes around him, is worth the price of the book in itself.

      In this up-to-date look at Canadian high school life, Juby pulls no punches, and there is no talking down to the audience: Sherman’s erections and sexual longing, the casual approach to marijuana, the swearing and sexual implications are an accurate reflection of high school life. The slang is totally current, and the dialogue is witty and sharp, although teens may not get Sherman’s malapropisms, and an unfortunate explanation of the term CBC is clearly included only for the American audience. This short, compelling, amusing novel takes dead aim at how the bystanders are complicit in bullying, how hurtful and malicious behaviour can destroy lives and how one courageous, persistent person can inspire others to change their lives.

      Getting the Girl will engage all mid-teens but is a perfect book for those boys who need to read and love to laugh.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller who is always looking for books that boys will enjoy.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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