________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 18 . . . . January 16, 2015


Whatever Life You Wear.

Cecilia Kennedy.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2014.
311 pp., trade pbk., ePub & PDF, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-88995-514-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55244-329-3 (ePub), ISBN 978-1-55244-330-9 (PDF).

Subject Headings:
Teenagers-Family relationships-Juvenile fiction.
Coming of age-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Kim Aippersbach.

*** /4



Now they'd reached the lounge at the boarding gate and, slowly, her inner parts began to fall back into place. She'd never believed that they would pull it off. It had been a lark, the plotting and scheming, changing their looks, a game played against circumstances, without a doubt in her mind that the outcome would be the usual disappointment life delivered. But a game worth playing for the off-chance of gaining Ashley's freedom to ride Brock in the Trials. But that she'd actually succeed in taking Ashley's place on the tour? That had been a Disney proposition, a fantasy she'd expected to fall apart the minute she showed her face.

Yet it had all gone like clockwork and here she was, waiting to board British Airways Flight 93 from Toronto to London.

Whatever Life You Wear is the story of two girls who switch identities. Ashley was signed up for a school trip to England by her wealthy, uncaring parents, but Ashley doesn't want to miss the horse jump competition she's been training for. She comes up with the scheme for her best friend, Carly, to impersonate her and take her place on the tour. Ashley, in turn, will pretend to be Carly and hope that Carly's alcoholic mother doesn't notice. The novel follows both Ashley and Carly as they live each other's lives for a week, and it also includes the points of view of the other four girls on the England tour, Sonnet, Sienna, Lindsey and Kristen. Most of the plot revolves around the tourist adventures of the five girls and the guys from a different school who join the tour, with their attendant romantic and mischief possibilities. Friendships are made and tested; personalities are explored; expectations are turned on their heads. People aren't who they seem to be, even if they're not impersonating someone else. Ashley, meanwhile, is discovered by Carly's mom, but she decides to help Ashley get to the horse jump competition, and Ashley supports her when she goes to an AA meeting. Carly's secret is discovered by Lindsey, who debates turning her in, but then chooses to back her up when the customs official seems suspicious.

      The central premise of Whatever Life You Wear is implausible, but once the narration gets past the unconvincing switcheroo, the high school trip is authentic in every agonizing, cringe-worthy detail, from awkward decisions about who sits with whom on the bus, to the bravado of kids with something to prove, to the irritability caused by exhaustion. Kennedy sneaks in a bit of learning about various famous landmarks as the students visit them; sometimes it comes across as didactic, but other times she integrates the information with the pov character's inner journey so it works well.

      At first, the multiple narrators are confusing and hard to keep track of. Sienna, Sonnet, Lindsey and Kristen start off sounding like stereotypes—rich girl, hippie, shallow fashionistas—and their bits of narration in the first few chapters serve as info-dumps, rather than engaging the reader with their characters. But as each girl's actions on the tour show her quirks and insecurities, they develop into more rounded characters, and the multiple perspectives become more interesting. Each girl has her own assumptions and judgments about the others that she has to overcome as their close quarters force them to get to know one another. The stereotypes were set up so they could be upended, all in support of the theme: you can't judge a person by her appearance.

      Whatever Life You Wear is a fun, readable travelogue of England with lots of high-school drama and a bit of romance thrown in. The characters all end up being likable and believable. The author's themes of authenticity and empathy are valuable, if sometimes heavy-handed. Kennedy clearly has first-hand knowledge of school trips, and what shines through in her writing is her affection and respect for adolescents.

      Anyone who has ever wanted to visit England will enjoy this novel, as well as anyone who enjoys a realistic social drama.


Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.

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.

Next Review | Table of Contents for This Issue - January 16, 2015.

CM Home
| Back Issues | Search | CM Archive | Profiles Archive