CM . . .
. Volume X Number 6. . . . November 14, 2003
Our performance of 'Peter Pan' took an hour. We were the last presentation and Mr. Cambert set aside most of the afternoon for us.
With the blinds pulled down, the tape recorder playing tinkly music-box piano, I came to know the wonderful feeling of power, of control, that comes from performance. For the first time I realized what it was that kept Gentry hopping from one dance spot to another. From Peter Pan's first appearance in the London nursery to the children's return at the end of the story, we pulled twenty-five grade sevens and one teacher with us to Neverland.
Like snowflakes, we are all different, but some of us are more different than others. Take Travis, who lives in a two-storey trailer with a redneck uncle, an aunt who is into crafts rather than house-keeping, and masses of cousins of various ages. His favourite activities relate to fabrics, sewing, and the creation of puppets of all varieties, and his best friend is not only a girl, but a girl with a rare disease that has left her tiny, with fragile bones and a dipsy-doodle kind of walk. The result, obviously, is a lot of teasing in the younger grades, escalating to full-scale bullying and finally assault at the end of grade 9. The main villains get their comeuppance, and Travis moves on to a fine-art high school in Toronto where "no one seems to mind how different you are." His future looks hopeful.
One of the nice things about this book is that Travis's teachers---well, some of his teachers---are so eager to recognize his talents and encourage them. One of the surprising things is the extent to which they are blind to the bullying and intimidation which is going on, especially those grown-ups who secretly agree that sewing is sissy and that 'real' boys shouldn't want to do it and should have been aware of the temptation that such activities would pose to the more 'real' boys in the school. But they didn't, presumably because it would throw the plot out of whack.
That is a problem. The story is pretty predictable, and the characters, while not the usual ones to find in a junior high class, are stereotypically unusual. Travis is the typical, but not overtly gay, sensitive boy, Chantelle the multiply-handicapped one who nevertheless makes the best of her situation, Shaun the large, dumb bully with two sidekicks ready to do whatever he says, and so on. Shallow characters can't develop much, and these don't. And the reader ends up not caring much. On the other hand, it is good to have a book that attempts to look at differences and make them peripheral to what really matters: being true to oneself and one's friends.
Mary Thomas works in the libraries of two elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB., and has
Stitches was the winner of the 2003 Governor General’s Literary Award for English children’s text.
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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.