CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 31. . . .April 17, 2015
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2015.
262 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Charlotte Duggan.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"Jeremy," I call, darting down the middle of the staircase, pushing through a throng of tenth graders to the second floor.
He stops and turns. His face is blank for a moment, like he doesn't recognize me, then a smile takes over his face.
"Julia," he says, rushing to me.
"Why didn't you return my texts?"
"I was busy." He bends down and nuzzles my neck. "You smell great."
"I wanted to talk about the other night. I'm sorry."
"Yeah, me too. I shouldn't have come down so hard on you," he says. He takes my hand and we weave our fingers together. "Come on. I wanna show you something."
We walk past the science labs to the shops classes. No one is around.
"You want to show me how to build a birdhouse?" I ask.
"No, this," he says, rolling up his sleeve.
"Oh my God, Jeremy," I gasp. That's why he was too busy to text. "A tattoo. Did it hurt?"
"You are incredible, you know that? I get 'Julia Forever' tattooed on my arm and the only thing you're focused on is if it hurt."
Sometimes “predictable” is another way of saying “truthful”, and an outcome that we can anticipate is really an indication of authentic storytelling. This may be the case with Jodi Carmichael’s second novel, Forever Julia. While many readers may be able to guess how the major plot points will unfold, what will engage them is the authenticity of a story filled with realistic characters who reveal truths about ourselves.
When readers first meet the protagonist, Julia, her life is in transition. Still grieving the death of her father, she and her mother, with Julia’s sick grandmother, now live in a cramped apartment over her mother’s book store. While Julia is still mentally fragile, life isn’t all bad as she has recently begun dating Jeremy, the most popular boy in the school. Their relationship sparks all the conflict that makes up the plot of this story. The klutzy, wallflower girl becoming the object of desire of the school hottie is not a new set up, but this novel moves beyond cliché because of the deep exploration of Julia’s feelings.
Thanks to Julia’s best friend Annika’s clear-sighted, take-no-prisoners attitude, we see that the boyfriend is a cad. Annika is the kind of friend we all need, often echoing the reader’s concerns about the choices Julia makes. Unimpressed by the wealthy, socially connected Jeremy (“The Third” as his friends call him, “short for Jeremy H. Thurston III”), Annika fearlessly calls him out on his behaviour. When he parks diagonally across two spaces in the school parking lot, she calls it an “OPAP – Over Privileged Asshole Park”, and when she learns that Jeremy is pressuring Julia to have sex, she is merciless: “You are an asshole. You are a deep dark stinky butt. If Julia doesn’t want to have sex with you, you need to respect that and stop pressuring her.”
While Annika may be confused and dismayed by Julia’s attempts to meet Jeremy’s standards for a girlfriend, the reader is not. Ever mindful of her young, teenaged audience, Carmichael does a superb job of portraying Julia’s sexual awakening without every getting graphic. In this passage, we see Julia so swept up in passion she fails to recognize the possessiveness that will soon dominate their relationship:
With one finger, he strokes my cheek, down to my jawline, along to my chin. He pauses and I swear my heartbeat pauses in response. Oh my God, he is so hot. And not ordinary hot. He’s smokin’ caliente-fire hot. His finger runs to my lower lip, which he traces, Slowly. My knees jellify and I lean into him for support. I think I may be swooning.
“You’re mine,” he whispers.
Without thought a reply sigh out of me as I melt into his arms, “Yes, I am.”
Carmichael also supplies Jeremy with a sufficient backstory to support, though not forgive, his behaviour. The arrogance of his public persona hides deep insecurities and fears that the good-hearted Julia naturally responds to. But while other characters are also well-drawn, they sometimes seem all too familiar: the wise, but still hip grandmother, the mean rich girls.
The plot stays entertaining, and the dialogue sounds true right to the end. Ultimately, Julia finds her centre and is able to see Jeremy for who he is. The take away message - be true to yourself – comes as a result of an authentic, though anticipated, resolution of the story.
Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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