________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 34 . . . . May 7, 2010


I.D.: Stuff That Happens to Define Us.

Kate Scowen. Illustrated by Peter Mitchell.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2010.
160 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.)
ISBN 978-1-55451-224-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-225-6 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Life change events-Juvenile literature.
Identity (Psychology)-Juvenile literature.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4


When I was 16, I moved back home and tried to get it together. I had a really close friend who was angry too. He had gotten way too heavy into drugs and had just been released from rehab. Together we tried to stay clean and fumbled for a way to cope without drinking and taking drugs. We had lots of laughs. But then……he killed himself.

I was devastated. The belief system that I had depended on to keep me sane completely fell apart. I just couldn’t believe that he died for a reason or that something good would come from it.

I still carry around an incredible sadness from all the things I experienced as a kid. But I’ve also accepted that good and bad things will happen to me, whether or not I can find reason in them. Somehow I’ve managed to hold on to my strong sense of hope.


The 12 short stories included in this book encapsulate some of life’s most heart-wrenching moments –– times that utterly changed people’s lives. Editor Scowen has included stories of abuse, divorce, having to parent a parent, sexuality, fitting in as an immigrant, being attacked on the street, and the betrayal of a girlfriend, among others. The stories are short, compelling and thoughtfully told in retrospect, as if an older, twenty-something is looking back upon his or her adolescence. After each story, on a question and answer page, the authors, who remain unidentified, reflect on how these critical moments have defined their lives.

internal art

     The text is hand printed in a sharp font, as if a young teen had carefully transcribed the events. Each story is brilliantly illustrated by Peter Mitchell in colour, in a pen and ink, scratchy style, with some of the text even receiving touching or horrifying additions. The word “campfire,” for example, has a campfire built around it. “Canada” is part of a canoe. “Cage” is in a cage. Emphasized words are drawn in two dimensions and larger than the rest of the font. The ugliness of the scene of the father hitting his son is appalling, the drops of dark red blood vividly bringing to life the son’s pain. Especially interesting is the disparity in size between the drawings of the teens, who are often shown as very tiny, and the adults who loom over them.

     This amazing blend of graphics and text will resonate with all mid-teens and help them to understand that they are not alone in their angst or suffering. Although the actual stories and graphics are moving, it is the question and answer page after each one, revealing the long-term response of the protagonist, that will provoke much discussion. How did these real people change their lives because of an incident or a sad long-term situation that happened in their teenage years? These life-affirming responses will offer hope to teens who may feel that life will never bloom again for them. The final pages give detailed phone numbers in Canada and the U.S., and books and websites that teens can access for help. The Afterword encourages teens to think about how they are building their own identity and how important it is to reflect thoughtfully upon one’s life.

     Every school library and school counsellor’s office should have this book within easy reach of teens so that conversations can begin.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

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.