CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 36. . . .May 26, 2017
Toronto, ON: Blue Moon, 2017.
207 pp., trade pbk., $19.99.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
When I heard the front door close, I collapsed onto the toilet seat. I was exhausted. Rachel exhausted me. It took every ounce of self-control not to reach over and slap her. Even though I was two years younger, I had two inches on her and was physically strong, where she was weak as a marshmallow.
Rachel used to be the person I always wanted to be around. I had worshipped her. For years. When she was on, she was the funniest, funnest person to be around. But even before Dad left, she had begun to change and her moods became more erratic. Darker. And I was an easy, obvious target.
For a long time, Mom could barely get out of bed, she had so many problems. She was so sad. I just decided to keep all the Rachel garbage to myself. Now that Mom was out of bed, she was pretty much never home. So I still needed to deal with Rachel on my own. And my strategy for dealing with her was, well, doing everything in my power not to deal with her. I tried to stay calm while she tormented me. I just sat there and took it. I didn’t react. The deep breathing helped, but I was close to losing it with her. And that would be bad for about a million reasons.
From experience, I knew that fighting back only made things worse. Much worse. Like Voldemort, Rachel was a master of the dark arts. Every time you lashed out at her, you would get it back fivefold plus. If you kept your cool and remained detached, you’d only have to deal with her ordinary, garden-variety psychopathy. If you retaliated, you risked penetrating deep enough into her psyche to initiate a full-blown apocalyptic attack. You would be at war and would have to watch yourself 24-7. I had been there and would not go back. Yes, she was a bully, and I passively took her crap.”
Nadine is 15-years-old and in grade ten. Her dad has left the family, her mother is not coping well, and her sister takes out all of her disappointment and anger on Nadine. Small wonder that Nadine does not have many friends at school and spends lunch hours in the library hoping that no one will notice her and she can just make it through another day. That is where she meets Anne, aka Mouse, another teen who is shy and introverted. Through Anne, Nadine is introduced to the sport of field hockey as well as to Anne’s twin brothers Matt and Cameron. But just when Nadine seems to be gaining some self-respect, some control, and maybe even a boyfriend, her sister Rachel chooses to increase the tension in order to have everything her own way. Will Nadine ever be able to stand up to the bully in her own family?
This is Marshall’s first book for young adults, and she creates an interesting main character in Nadine. At the beginning, Nadine seems to have completely lost herself, content to remain out of sight and out of mind both at school and at home. She gains strength throughout this coming-of-age novel thanks in part to being a member of the field hockey team and to having the support of Cameron. Nadine does her best to be proactive, coming up with her own 12-step plan based on AA and pushing herself little by little beyond her normal comfort zone.
Secondary characters complete the cast but become somewhat stereotypical. Anne is the quiet, mousy young woman whose very lack of social skills pushes Nadine to be the more forceful one. Matt is a typical playboy who moves from one girl to the next without any thought of the consequences. His twin brother Cameron is the quiet and reserved guy who doesn’t have the looks and pizzazz but has the nicer personality and provides strength and support for Nadine.
And then there is Rachel, the nasty and devious older sister who seems determined to undermine Nadine whenever she has the opportunity. Marshall keeps the tension high as readers wonder just what Rachel might devise as her next punishment. The girls’ relationship goes well beyond sibling rivalry, and Marshall hints that Rachel may actually have a mental health issue. This is never fully explored in the story and is a theme which might have been expanded, given the current interest in it among young adults.
At times, the story becomes somewhat repetitive as we hear over and over again about dad’s break with the family and the terrible consequences it has on both of the girls and their mother. Throughout most of the book, the mother is a rather impotent character, and one wonders that she remains so self-absorbed and “absent” when her daughters desperately need her. Toward the end, the author does show that mother, like daughter Nadine, is gradually regaining some self-esteem.
The ending is a discussion between the two sisters which seems to wrap up the story just a little too neatly. While readers are rooting for Nadine and hoping for some sort of detente in the sibling war, the peace and understanding at the end come about too quickly and thus seem unrealistic.
Marshall has given her young adult readers various examples of bullying throughout the novel, but she wisely does not provide any solution to such an issue. Should the bully be ignored?
Should you face a bully head-on and be prepared for the consequences? Should you report the bully to someone in authority and let them fight the battle for you? Marshall shows all sides of these potential solutions and clearly understands that each situation and each set of personalities will determine the best outcome in a bullying situation.
Young adults in the intermediate and early high school grades will relate to the situations and characters presented in NemeSIS and will undoubtedly hope that Susan Marshall has a second novel in the works.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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