CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 40. . . .June 13, 2014
So begins Depth of Field, Chantel Guertin’s second novel in a series featuring 16-year-old Philadelphia (Pippa) Greene, with the first book being The Rule of Thirds. And so begins Pippa’s two-week stint at Tisch Camp, an award she won by placing second in a highly competitive Vantage photography contest. She would have placed first, but Ben (Bastard) Baxter stole her work and used it to win. Thus, he also is going to Tisch, a prestigious photography school in New York, and the place where Pippa’s recently deceased father learned his trade as a photographer and met Pippa’s ex-fashion model mom.
With an absent boyfriend (along with a self-imposed ban on any communications between them during the two weeks they’ll be apart), and the traditional twist of the heroine finding herself forced to spend time with a boy she has good reason to hate, one might think this novel is about the traditionally drama-filled upheaval of teenage boy-girl relationships. There is an abundance of teenage drama in the book, and there is romance. However, in Depth of Field, Guertin has written a multi-faceted story that explores deep truths as it unwinds in the fast-paced world of New York, and romance is not the main view.
Inside the boy-girl story, a life-story that rivals Pippa’s own unfolds, and Ben Baxter becomes a surprisingly complex character. Alongside that is a potentially life-changing story Pippa discovers about her parents’ past, and hence about herself. And David Westerly, the mentor she most wanted to have at Tisch Camp, has a secret that, in the end, will affect much more than her work.
The cast of characters Pippa spends her time with at Tisch are fully drawn. In Guertin’s hands, Pippa’s roommate, Ramona, turns into more than the very bad influence she starts out to be. Ben Baxter, David Westerly and Pippa’s Aunt Emmy all come to life.
Details that anchor a story in time and place are important. Guertin’s penchant for fashion is obvious (‘obvi’ in Pippa’s language), and there were times I found those details intrusive. They seem more geared to wardrobe instructions for a movie than anything else, and they slow the pace of the story without adding depth. (However, younger female readers, or those interested in the world of fashion, might find them quite fascinating). The same could be said of some of the physical descriptions of how Pippa gets from one place to the next. That said, the details concerning life in New York, and those about photography, bring the city and Pippa’s passion, along with the program she’s landed herself in, into sharp focus. They add an engaging allure, and they move the story along.
In some ways, the story unfolds in predictable ways. But there are also numerous twists that escalate tension and mystery that will keep readers guessing and engaged. Humour comes into it, too. The emphasis is on layers. To truly come to terms with her father’s death, as well as to conquer her own self-doubts and become the photographer she wants to be, Pippa must learn what elements in a complex world one can look through, what can be blurred, and what should be lined up on the golden mean. Every setting on the camera, and every choice Pippa makes, has a life-lesson attached to it. If I have a criticism of this, it’s that perhaps there are too many life lessons learned in a short span of 14 days.
For some strange reason, having a female protagonist almost always means more girls than boys will read a book. The subject matter in Depth of Field is also likely to appeal more to female readers than males. But in this book Guertin truly inhabits the world of a talented 16-year-old who, in spite of self-doubt, faces the world head on. And if the story is one that has been told many times, many ways, Geurtin’s approach to it is creative and new.
Jocelyn M. Reekie is a writer, editor and publisher in Campbell River, BC. (www.jocelynmreekie.com)
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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.