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Judith Wright.
Vancouver, BC: Polestar Press, 1992.
158pp., paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-919591-14-0. Distributed by Raincoast Books. CIP.

Grades 8-9 / Ages 13-14

Reviewed by Anne Davidson.

Volume 20 Number 6
1992 November

The Magpie Summer, Saskatchewan author Judith Wright's first novel, is the story of Jessie Lipsett's thirteenth summer, which she spends on her family's farm in rural Saskatchewan and at a nearby Bible camp. Considering Jessie's age, it is not surprising that some of her thoughts revolve around relationships, life, death and sex. While the reader hopes for glimpses of her insights into these issues, Jessie herself remains detached from it all. Episodes such as the death of her calf and the night when her aunt takes refuge in their house to get away from her husband are certainly occasions when Jessie could learn and grow. But because she doesn't reflect on the incidents and on her feelings about them, the story never goes beyond the superficial.

This is billed as a "coming of age" novel. There are two "sexual" incidents in the story - one where Jessie and her friend Arlene watch their brothers frolic naked in the granary, and one where Jessie and a boy named Peter are alone in a truck one night. In both cases, Jessie's impressions of the incidents are noticeably absent. In describing the truck scene, the third-person narrator's language is far too sophisticated for the situation:

It's like being peeled. She is a branch of green poplar, smooth and shy. Stroked to her own perfect center, she is bone bare and bursting skin. She is nerve endings ripe with touch. But in the midst of the pleasure, something catches - something tugged too hard.
[The next day] She hasn't told Arlene about last night. She hasn't admitted it yet to herself.

Perhaps Jessie's problem is that she won't admit things to herself. If she did, she would be a more interesting character, and The Magpie Summer would be a more satisfying novel.

The Magpie Summer is for ages thirteen to sixteen. If you have extra money in your young adult budget, you still might want to buy this book instead of more "Sweet Valley Highs."

Anne Davidson is an Ottawa editor.
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