________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 33 . . . . May 5, 2017


The Lives of Desperate Girls.

MacKenzie Common.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Teen Canada, 2017.
302 pp., hardcover & epub, $21.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-14-319871-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-14-319872-7 (epub).

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Rachel Seigel.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



The wind grew even stronger and the snow stung as it hit my face, but I stared directly into the vortex of swirling white. Before me shapes appeared in the snow. Human figures began to emerge from the cacophony. I felt a gasp tumble from my mouth, snatched away by the winds, as I realized I was seeing children. They looked as if they had been sculpted from the snow, ghostly apparitions in thin dresses and short pants. They were all Native, and their faces were small and sad, their eyes boring into me with dread. My gaze slowly traveled down their forms to the ground in front of me. These woods were on the grounds of St. Mary's. I heard Helen's mother's words in my head, about the children who died at the school. Some of them probably ended up in the graveyard, but that was a tiny cemetery. Maybe the rest were hidden where no one could ever find them.

These children were beneath the ground, with no one to visit them. I felt tears sting my eyes as I curled my fists into legs and cried at all the horror this world brought and all the pain we inflicted on each other. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so so sorry!" I screamed over and over into the wind, never hearing my own voice reach my ears. Finally, I slumped over and pressed my forehead against the cold ground. I wept and wept, the wind scoring my back with icy blasts.

      When 16-year-old Jenny Parker's best friend Chloe disappears, the entire town is devastated. Chloe was pretty, blonde, and white. The police throw all of their resources into finding Chloe, including repeatedly questioning Jenny who, they are certain, knows more than she's telling. Not long after Chloe's disappearance, Helen, a native girl around the same age as Chloe, is found dead in the woods. To Jenny's dismay, the town shows little interest in solving Helen's murder. As Jenny starts to seek answers on her own, her eyes are opened to some uncomfortable truths about her town and her friend. But can one girl make a difference on her own?

      The people of Thunder Creek, ON, are used to ignoring the reservation on the edge of town, and nobody blinks when Helen's body is found in the woods. As far as anybody is concerned, she's just another dead Native, and finding out who killed her is far less important than finding the missing white teenager.

      As Jenny tries to come to terms with losing her best friend, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Helen and wrestles with some secrets of her own. While she doesn't know anything for sure, she does know more than what she told the police. Would telling them what she thinks she knows help? Jenny isn't sure. After all, she has no proof, and it's not her story to tell.

      The Lives of Desperate Girls alternates between the present and the days leading up to Chloe's disappearance, and the flashbacks paint a disturbing picture of bullying, slut-shaming and the cruelty of teenagers in high school. The author also touches on the ways people rewrite history in order to create a more comfortable version of reality. As Jenny's investigation progresses, she begins to realize that her town had always had an ugly side, but she'd either never noticed, or never acknowledged it before. She also realizes that once you know a thing, you can never unknow it, and she struggles to cope with the injustices that she's seeing. The narrator has an authentic and compelling voice, and the story is well-paced. Drawing on her experiences growing up in Northern Ontario, Common has created a powerful story about the quiet racism that exists in many small towns and asks readers to consider why one life is less important than another. Highly recommended for study in high school classrooms.

Highly Recommended.

Rachel Seigel is a freelance writer and author of titles in the "Canadian Aboriginal Communities" series.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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