CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 25 . . . . March 2, 2018
Julie Nolan has a lot to deal with. She's in love with her best friend Lorelei but hasn't told her. She's developing a friendship with Lorelei's ex-boyfriend, Henry, and maybe she loves him too, though she's not quite sure. She's dealing with her overbearing teacher, Mr. Gomez, who she fears is in love with her. She's dealing with her mom's developing mental illness, a delusion that her heart has stopped beating and she's died. And Julie's keeping knowledge of that mental illness from her father who's too busy to notice that his wife is spending her days acting out her delusion and neglecting their infant son. Julie is also dealing with typical teen things, high school gossip and rumours, and parties with drinking that she's not completely comfortable with.
Past Tense is a teen coming-of-age novel told from Julie's perspective. Julie is a likable character, and her growth through the novel is realistic. In the beginning, Julie's devotion to her friend Lorelei blinds her to the way Lorelei manipulates and uses her, but, as Julie gains perspective on her relationship with her longtime best friend and a deeper understanding of herself, she starts to realize that maybe Lorelei isn't such a great friend. The novel deftly portrays Julie and Lorelei's friendship, never villainizing Lorelei. Instead, it has a nuanced portrayal of a friendship that its principals have outgrown as they have aged and their interests have diverged.
While Past Tense treads the familiar ground of high school drama, Julie's matter-of-fact narration lends it a fresh feel. The novel deals with serious subjects, including teen sexuality, death, and grief, but the light humour of the book prevents it from getting bogged down. Past Tense is an excellent novel, well written with engaging and realistic characters that readers will relate to. It is a must have for any school or public library collection.
Tara Stieglitz is a librarian at MacEwan University in Edmonton, AB.