________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover The Mitochondrial Curiosities of Marcels 1 to 19.

Jocelyn Brown.
Toronto, ON: Coach House Books, 2009.
129 pp., pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 978-1-55245-209-7.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


In September I had an epiphany. Others called it a breakdown because I was fourteen and had recently cut my own hair. Everybody had an opinion. I got caught in a bad energy field (Rita); I was lazy (Joan); predictably nihilistic (Paige); anemic (Grandma Giles); possibly lesbian (Santini, school counsellor); underchallenged (Ms. Riddell, biology teacher); bloody brilliant (Leonard). I knew it was an epiphany because I knew what epiphanies were. The week before, I had happened to be in English 10 when Trenchey talked about epiphanies and he was quasi-interesting for the first and only time. That kind of coincidence has to mean something.

On epiphany day, things started as per usual. I was walking through Churchill Square, empty concrete heart of Edmonton. I had passed the sign that says "Wheeled sporting activities are not allowed." Wheeled sports are the only thing the square makes sense for, but that's Edmonton for you, and I'm used to it.

Who knows why that day was so radically unspecial, but I was totally tabula rasa. Possibly Churchill Square oozed brain-damaging toxins and all my get-thee-to-school neurons had been eaten away so I could epiphanize. Or, forget the carcinogens because maybe ugliness is enough for brain damage. Wouldn't that explain practically everything?

Dree is an almost 15-year-old who lives in Edmonton where, when it isn't cold and boring it's ... boring and cold. But never mind ... on her fifteenth birthday she'll receive enough money to fly to Toronto and have a real life. Unfortunately, not only does her dad's promise of funds never happen, but he suffers a fatal heart attack, and so Dree's birthday is spent at a memorial brunch for her father. Along with trying to deal with her grief, Dree also has to contend with her stepmother, her perfect sister Paige, failing marks at school and a complete lack of friends in her peer group.

     Like anyone in this situation, Dree experiences a whirlwind of various emotions. She seeks ways to grieve her dad — by trying to summon his spirit in order to chat, by spending an entire week at home in bed reading "Heavenly Riches" and building abundance receptors. She experiences fear, frustration, anger and depression, and often these emotions get between Dree and her family or her few potential friends and cause problems. One of the only constants in her life is Dree's artistic flair and her love of any and all crafts. Hence the Marcels 119 of the title. These are sock creatures which fulfill a variety of roles in Dree's life.

     The novel is aimed at "older" young adults, and the real-life experiences described will have appeal for this age group. Written in the first person, the dialogue and descriptions are frank ... blunt almost to the point of rudeness. Yet there are humour and wit as well, even though these qualities are often more sarcastic than comic. Brown has included elements of psychology, mystery and family scandal in the book. At times, there seem to be too many threads in the plot, and some are never truly woven into the story. Readers must read between the lines and interpret Dree's stream of consciousness in their own way. Likewise, there are many characters, but several are never really fleshed out and thus are just names as opposed to personalities. Perhaps this sort of anonymity suggests that these are stereotypes, and, therefore, readers are allowed to fill in the blanks and personalize them according to their own lives. Virtually no one has a last name, adding to the feeling that they are both anyone and everyone.

     The novel moves quickly and represents its protagonist, Dree, very well. She goes through a roller coaster of emotions and reacts often in unexpected and occasionally unaccepted ways. She seems to change direction almost on the spot and wears her heart on her sleeve despite the cost to her relationships. All in all, Dree is not entirely a likeable character, and yet there is something fresh and real about her that makes readers want to cheer her on and maybe even create their own Marcel creatures or perhaps a "Circle of Life Bowl."


Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a second career as a travel consultant.

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

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