CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 11. . . .November 13, 2015
A Christmas Kerril.
n.p., www.denisejaden.com, 2015.
249 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $12.95 (US).
ISBN 978-1-5169-4747-8 (pbk.).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Every step is much more difficult than the last, it seems. Inches of snow have already piled on the sidewalk, and I suddenly feel so tired, exhausted. I have to keep looking down to see if my legs are still moving forward. They are, but barely.
It must be the start of a blizzard. I probably should be more concerned at the thought, but somehow I canít think of anything except finding a way to get warm. Even my face feels numbly frozen.
I keep pushing on, inch by inch, and it feels like each step is taking forever. An hour ago, Iíd probably have just let this storm consume me. Iíd have sat down in the middle of it, and not cared if anyone found me. Iím not sure where my inner determination is coming from, but I canít stop driving myself forward to do something right. I must be getting close. I see a flicker of light ahead, and wonder if itís the school. Could I finally be there?
The taxi never did find me, but maybe I donít need the warm car anymore.
Thereís plenty of warmth ahead of me.
Well, and wrath.
Warmth and wrath?
Kerril is a high school student in her mid-teens who hates Christmas because of terrible past events which took place around Christmas Day. This year, she is being forced into the season despite herself because her creative writing teacher has decided to mount a holiday play entitled ďA Christmas KerrilĒ with Kerril, herself, as the main character. Kerril doesnít like Christmas, doesnít like her co-star Adam, and decides she simply cannot or will not participate. When the handsome Perry suggests she might like to come with him to a cabin and just leave everything and everyone behind, Kerril is very tempted by the offer. But that would mean disappointing the cast of the play and, more importantly, disappointing herself.
Kerril is a young adult who is trying hard to find herself amid pressure from her divorced parents and her peers at school. She is torn between doing her best to help others and doing what will be best for her. There are times when readers will want to shake her because of some poor decisions, but, in the end, Kerril is a character who is realistic, well-intentioned and deserving of sympathy.
Secondary characters include girlfriends, Brooke and Aysha, as well as romantic interests, Perry and Adam. The two boys reveal a great deal about Kerril. She is attracted to Perry and is on the verge of accepting his invitation to simply get away from it all during the Christmas holidays, and yet, there is something a little devious about him which makes her wary. Her interest in Adam stems from a desire to put him at ease and help him with his stuttering. She realizes that having her to rehearse with and focus on, Adam has much less trouble with his speech. Readers are left to wonder right until the end of the book which of the two boys will eventually win Kerrilís heart.
While in some ways Denise Jaden has written a typical young adult coming-of-age novel, she has also incorporated elements of Dickens into her work as indicated by the bookís title. Like Scrooge, Kerril has visions of the various stages of her life and sees past, present and future in what she calls ďlucid dreamingĒ. Readers see Kerril as well as many of the other characters with whom she is involved in these dreams which give readers more insight into and understanding of Kerrilís emotions and motivations as the novel progresses. These dreams are never confusing to readers as Jaden makes it clear what is reality and what is not.
The plot moves quickly because students are rehearsing a Christmas play and have only one month to prepare. Jaden highlights the feeling of pressure by subtitling each chapter with a timeline, such as ďFive and a half days until ChristmasĒ. Not only does this underline the urgency of rehearsing and preparing a stage production, it also emphasizes that Kerril is unavoidably inching closer to what, for her, is the worst time of the year. She canít avoid Christmas just as she canít avoid making decisions about making a choice between Perry and Adam. There is a deadline, and readers feel swept up in the plot which inexorably moves to the night of the production. Will the play go on as planned? Will Kerril be there, or will she choose to abandon everything?
In Dickensí story, Scrooge learns the importance of being kind and caring toward others, thereby becoming a happier and better person himself. This is also the overarching theme of Jadenís novel. Kerril, as suggested in the excerpt above, has learned a great deal about herself throughout the story and is prepared to face whatever consequences lie ahead. She has developed a determination and drive she never knew she possessed and is ready to move on in her life.
Jaden has developed an interesting story around likeable and credible characters. As in many good novels, the end feels like it could be just the beginning for Kerril and her friends. Many questions are left unanswered, and readers will be sorry to see the story end. Jaden leaves her fans wanting more, no doubt exactly what any good author sets out to do.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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