CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 22. . . .February 12, 2016
When 16-year-old Flannery Malone is paired up with Tyrone ORourke for her Entrepreneurship project, she’s thrilled and a little worried. Thrilled because she’s been in love with Tyrone since she was 10; worried because Tyrone is an outlaw graffiti artist rebel and too cool for school. She needs the course to graduate, and Tyrone isn’t helping.
Tyrone isn’t her only problem. Her mother, free-spirited Miranda, can’t pay the heating bills, but she fritters away money on toys for Flannery’s brother. Her best friend, Amber, has fallen for an arrogant musician who makes her forget everything that used to matter, including Flannery. Her little brother Felix is out of control, and Kyle Keating, a gorgeous classmate, is definitely interested in Flannery. It’s all very confusing, and Flannery’s certainties begin to dissolve.
For her Entrepreneurship project, Flannery creates a gag love potion, and when rumours spread that it really works, sales go viral. But this is a year of shattering change, and Flannery discovers that, in real life, love can be more painful, more confusing and more potent than any potion.
With Flannery, Lisa Moore has created a character who is imaginative, romantic, heart-breaking and hilarious. Set in a vividly real St. John’s, Nfld, the story captures the confusion, distress, elation and intensity of adolescence. Flannery’s voice is naive and vulnerable, but, at the same time, strong and flippant, and her escalating conflicts with friends and family are very believable. Moore also explores realities often glossed over in other young adult books. The family’s poverty colours Flannery’s life, from worrying about having enough money to buy groceries or pay rent, to being threatened with detention because she can’t afford to buy a text for her Biology class. Her intense yearning for her unknown, absent father creates a rift in Flannery’s self-image. Casual and destructive substance abuse and cruelty, in both adults and teens, are all around her. Yet these realities are as often a source of ironic amusement as despair, and the book’s irrepressible tone moves the narrative briskly.
The book’s characters are full of flaws, but like Flannery, the reader can’t help but care deeply for them. Tyrone’s neglect and mixed messages are frustrating, but his artistic genius and his tormented home life make him a sympathetic character. Flannery’s flighty mother, Miranda, is an irresponsible and impractical parent who is drawn to the wrong men, but her love for her children and the flashes of joy she brings to Flannery’s life allow Flannery and readers to forgive her. Even Amber, whose journey down a dark path of obsession and dependence destroys her childhood friendship with Flannery, is eventually revealed as vulnerable and betrayed. The multi-faceted characters offer hilarious moments but also remind readers of the complicated reality of the human personality. Flannery’s acceptance of this allows her to forgive the past and move on into a positive future.
Before she reaches an epiphany, however, Flannery must endure what have come to be regarded as adolescent brutalities. She is shunned by her social group, embarrassed by her family, and swarmed and beaten up by a group of girls in high school. The cruelty seems to have no consequence; one would hope that anti-bullying initiatives now in place would not allow such behaviour to go unpunished, but it seems such harrowing experiences are part of the gauntlet of adolescence in young adult fiction.
Flannery is Lisa Moore’s first young adult novel. The author of such novels as February, (a Man Booker Prize longlist nominee) and Alligator (a Giller Prize finalist) maintains her vivid voice and finely-tuned ear for dialogue, as well as an evocative sense of place, both specific and universal. Moore’s flashback style weaves past and present, creating a richness of plot and character that lends both authenticity and perspective.
The book will appeal to fans of contemporary romance as well as realistic fiction. The strong sense of place gives Flannery a particularly Canadian flavour, but the universal themes will make it relevant to high school students everywhere. A fast-moving, engaging novel, Flannery is a must for high school libraries.
Wendy Phillips is a teacher-librarian in Richmond, B.C. and the author of the Governor General's award-winning young adult novel, Fishtailing.
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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.