CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 8. . . .October 23, 2009
Isle of Mirage is one of the hardest types of books to review as the title page indicates that it is an anthology of students’ writings. The compilation’s five contributors, four females and one male, are 16-to-18 year-olds in attendance at the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre. Obviously, as the contributors are beginning writers, their 17 pieces of poetry and prose, though earnest in content, are unpolished, and, in terms of literary quality, they simply do not meet the standards of writing that one would expect to find in a commercial product. Of course, it is clearly unfair to compare/contrast what this quintet has produced with the products of those more seasoned authors who have been put through the crucible of the “risk” publishing process, with its rejection letters and critical to and fro with editors. However, when a significant price tag is connected to the student product, then, unfortunately, the students’ work has entered the competitive arena of the real world of publishing and consequently must be adjudicated by its standards.
Frankly, I have to question why the decision was made to produce this anthology in book form and especially in hardcover format. If the intent was only to recognize and encourage students’ performance in writing and to share their writings more widely, then, in today’s technological world, there are so many much more cost effective ways from which to choose, with the most obvious being simply posting the students’ writing to a website.
While each piece is introduced via a brief bibliographic blurb, because each author’s contributions are not grouped together, readers get a piecemeal picture of the teens, a picture which in one instance is contradictory. On page 7, readers are told that Corrine Clyne “would like to pursue journalism and write a chapter book” but, on page 11, “Corrine hopes to one day pursue a career in social work.” Bringing all the biographical information together at the beginning or conclusion of the book would have likely been more appropriate and useful.
Given the anthology’s short length, just 60 pages, and the fact that it includes 17 contributions, most pieces are obviously going to be quite short. The two exceptions are Terri Hart’s six-page “Advocate for Murder” which, according to the piece’s introduction, is an “excerpt from a mystery novel in progress....” and Jonah Mowatt’s seven-page “The Spire Case of Lyra,” a work of fantasy. The former exhibits a good command of dialogue, but the latter suffers from the challenge found within all fantasy, that of providing enough details to make the fantasy world “real” to readers. As a former high school English teacher, I would give Terri Hart an “A” for her imaginative renderings of three characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Prince Hamlet (see excerpt above); Ophelia and Claudius. Hart has obviously “understood” this play and its players. Corrine Clyne’s poetry speaks to some of the pain in her life, particularly her mother’s death, an event which occurred when Corrine was just 13 and which Corrine addresses in “Who She Was.” Rae-Dawn Balfour has also selected poetry as her literary form, and like Corrine, she speaks to a mother’s loss in one of her poems, “Lies Through My Sister’s Eyes.” While the four aforementioned teens each have three to five pieces in Isle of Mirage, Marcie Redhead has but one contribution, a piece of symbolic prose entitled “Peace-War.”
Though a teacher of a high school writing class or writing club might want a copy of Isle of Mirage as an example of student writing, it is a book that otherwise can be bypassed by school and public libraries.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.