CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 40. . . .June 13, 2014
Funny with a hint of foreboding is the tone of this fresh story from award-winning young adult novelist Deborah Kerbel. The novel follows 13-year-old Dani as she travels to Greece for a month in the summer with her best friend, Kat. Under the watchful eye of Katís mother, the threesome stay in a relativeís beach resort and devote their time to swimming, lounging in the sand, and keeping an eye out for a potential candidate for Katís first kiss. When a series of troublesome incidents begins to happen to Dani, she feels like she is living under a black cloud, especially when it travels with her back to Toronto. When the incidents escalate and Daniís car is vandalized, the girls begin to suspect it might be more than random rotten luck, and they turn their investigation into an exploration of the role of curses in Greek culture and how to eradicate them.
Female friendship, burgeoning sexuality, cultural differences, and superstition are dominant themes in this novel. Kerbel takes a fresh perspective at several turns, building this novel far beyond the formulaic summer-with-your-best-friend fare. The first-person narrative allows readers to view the journey through Daniís eyes. Empathy for her character comes easily, despite her obvious attractiveness and affluence. A preteen girl with confidence, beauty and money is a character station much maligned in contemporary childrenís literature Ė these young women are often portrayed with a sense of superiority, or stupidity. Dani is neither and is quite willing to acknowledge the privileges she has acquired from her station. She recognizes both the positive and negative effects it has had on her young life and shows a depth of character that rings true.
Greek culture, heritage, and celebrations provide much more than a setting and cultural lens for the story. They play a role, one almost as significant as another main character, and help build tension and conflict throughout the plot. Much of the cultural emphasis feels authentic: the bonds between family members in Greece and Canada; the family-run resort (described as a short flight from Athens) with its authentic food and celebratory customs; the role of superstitions in cultural heritage; and the acknowledgement of the difficulty of preserving cultural traditions in a new country.
Using a first-person perspective can lead to underdeveloped secondary characters in some novels. This novel has some very well developed secondary characters, such as Daniís love interest, Nick. However, the development of other characters seems inconsistent with their actions as the plot evolves. This is especially true for Katís mother, Mrs. Papadakis. Mrs. P, as she is affectionately referred to by Dani, is portrayed as an overbearing, but loving mother, who puts Katís interests and well-being before her own and who struggles valiantly with trying to raise a daughter in a new country while maintaining ties to her heritage. As the novel exposes Mrs. P as a character with much more depth, and, in fact, a very dark side, the reconciliation of these opposing character traits doesnít always ring true. This is true, to a lesser degree, with Katís character as well. Portrayed as smart, loyal, obedient, and with a great sense of humour, it feels as though we have only scratched the surface of Katís character when she reveals the truth about her own developing sexuality and attraction to her best friend.
The complexities of the plot transcending two settings and incorporating multiple minor characters, suspenseful twists, and situational complexities lead to some contrived elements that feel a little beyond the scope of possibility for this narrative and detract from the believability for this reader. For example, the level of police intervention into a case of car vandalism where no one was hurt seems out of the realm of possibility for this readerís experience with the Canadian criminal justice system. Even if there was a rationale for the level of forensic testing completed on a vandalized car, the results of the tests are revealed in record time, and it seems implausible that only Dani and Kat would reach the logical conclusion on the identity of the vandal.
Kerbelís novel is readable and engaging. I applaud her ability to take a fresh perspective and explore gender identity and the complexities of culture. The plot difficulties could have been solved with a little more intervention from the editing team to further develop and smooth out aspects of the final one-third of the story. That extra attention would have strengthened this novel to the level of Kerbelís other titles written for a slightly older audience.
Recommended with Reservations.
Beth Maddigan is Memorial University of Newfoundlandís Education Librarian.
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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.