________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008


The Kingdom of Strange.

Shula Klinger.
Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish (Distributed in Canada by Fitzhenry & Whiteside), 2008.
297 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-0-7614-5395-6.

Subject Headings:        
Interpersonal relations-Fiction.
High schools-Fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Karen Rankin.

* /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof


I have revised my position on team-work. On learning that David is a whiz with Power Point, I’ve discovered that I LOVE it! He’s going to sort out my Bodies in Motion project for PE, and I’m going to edit his English assignment. As my kindergarten teacher used to say, “Really great sharing, everyone!” In high school they call it “cheating.” I prefer to call it “Authentic Learning.”

Melinda got new jeans this weekend. I swear her pants are getting tinier and tinier. Soon she’ll just be wearing two little patches of denim. David suggested we make a “Melinda’s Jeans” slide show, where her jeans get smaller and smaller until she explodes. He sounded deadly serious when he said this. He actually started planning out the screens on my math book, and I had to fight to get it out of his hands. He’s not a very good artist, but that picture of Melinda with her jeans shrinking down her butt was pretty hilarious.

I talked to Granny Ed about David’s Grandpa. She said that old people do have nightmares sometimes. It depends on what you see when you are awake. Some people see too much, she said. I don’t know what David’s grandpa has seen in his life, but I feel bad for him. I feel sad for David, too, visiting the old fellow in a home three times a week.

Anyway, Gran and I got to talking about friendships and what it’s like making friends when you get older. She said that, “Adult friendships are a bit different, pet.” You still go out shopping and eat or watch movies together, but you also help when your friend gets a new job and can’t pick up the children on time, or you help your friend’s daughter get into college, speak French, or get her CPR certificate; or you help with ballet, homework, or boyfriends. You still do all the fun stuff, too. It’s just deeper. Maybe a bit more like being family.  

Grade 9 student Thisbe aspires to a “brilliant career as a novelist.” When her parents go abroad for three months, Thisbe’s Granny Ed moves in to care for her. Thisbe misses her parents and does not initially appreciate her grandmother’s food, love of yoga, or dog. At the same time that Thisbe is trying to adjust to Granny Ed, she is moving away from her “little group of girls” at school, girls with whom she no longer identifies. Thisbe’s life is further complicated by the fact that she has just started menstruation and is not comfortable with the changes – and their implications – that her body is undergoing. A school assignment in English results in Thisbe’s writing on the internet for an “audience” – one other student, named Iphis. Thisbe grows close to Iphis before discovering that he is a boy, not a girl as she had assumed. This revelation leaves her stunned and angry. After a lot of swimming, introspection and heart-felt talks with Granny Ed, Thisbe makes peace with Iphis, plans to introduce him to her parents, finishes her writing assignment, comes to terms with her recent body changes, and pursues some suitable friendships at school.

     Shula Klinger’s first novel is packed with advice for young people, particularly if they have an interest in writing. At times, Klinger presents a unique way of both seeing and saying things. For instance, “[My mother] is my external hard drive. My extra can of memory.”

     Unfortunately, as Thisbe herself confesses, “I am obsessed with myself.” This admission comes on page 61 after a rambling start in which Thisbe tells the reader all about herself, including family, friends and a favourite teacher. Yet, Thisbe remains an unconvincing character with whom it is difficult to relate or empathize, despite the many pages in which the reader is ‘inside’ her head. As an only child of two literary scholars, Thisbe is more literate and mature than the average youngster. One would expect this. Nevertheless, this reader found Thisbe’s thoughts, and the way she chooses to express them, too adult. For instance, Thisbe notes:

     There’s a huge gap between the person I see through the cracks between my fingers and the person I ought to be. I know that now. I am not as nice as I should be. My ‘friends’(so-called, slobbing at Kel’s house tonight in front of endless reruns) don’t help. They always laugh when I make jokes about other people. And it encourages me! Which is foolish because the spears are only an excuse for the sharp things that point inward. Those do a lot more damage.

     Most of the peripheral characters in the novel – like Thisbe’s grandmother and her lab partner, David – though at times sketchy, are credible. 

     The slow-paced story in The Kingdom of Strange emerges through Thisbe’s diary, her on-line communications with Iphis, conversations with her grandmother, and occasionally – somewhat confusingly – a third person, omniscient narrator. Perhaps it is because of this structure that too many parts of the novel feel over-hashed and repetitive. And disappointingly, scenes are more often related after the fact by Thisbe, rather than shown through action and dialogue. Along with writing tips, the author offers many non-too-subtle life tips. For instance, Thisbe relates some of Grandma Ed’s advice:

     "She told me that I can’t escape my body forever and that at some point, I might actually like it. She told me … it wasn’t enough to spend your life vanishing into your head and into words on a screen. You have to take care of your body, too, because your body and your mind talk to each other. They talk very quietly so you can’t hear them, but if you look after your body, your mind will be nicer to you. Life won’t be quite so hard."

     Shula Klinger’s first novel would have benefitted from a far more thorough edit. Even strong, patient readers will have a difficult time making their way through The Kingdom of Strange to its happy and predictable conclusion.

Not Recommended.

Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and teacher.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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