________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover My Mother is a French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed-Up Life.

Colleen Sydor.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008.
255 pp., pbk. & hc., $8.95 (pbk.), $17.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-184-4 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55453-183-7 (hc.).

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 years and up.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

**** /4


"You always wear black? I like your work boots." (They're black, broken in and unlaced — just the way I like 'em.)

"Thanks." He looks me over for a sec. "I like your fingernails."

I look at my unpolished, unfiled nails. "Yeah?" (Is he making fun of me?)


Thirty seconds go by. Should I ask?

"Um... why?" At least he doesn't ask me "Why what?"

"They're nice. They look like they could scratch someone's eyes out."

Oh. My. God. That is the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. Seriously.


Fifteen-year-old, Eli Smyth, sees herself as a typical young woman forced to endure the undeserved punishment of having to live with a mother who is anything but typical. Eli's mother works at Burgers 'n' Fries, where the mother dresses in a foam rubber costume and parades as a giant-sized French fry. For Eli, her mother's job represents the culmination of years of motherly embarrassment. Oh, to be Eli's best friend, Grace. Not only does Grace not have to put up with Eli's mother, but, instead, Grace gets to enjoy a home life that features two dads.

     My Mother Is a French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed-Up Life is a hilarious, highly engaging peek into the self-centred life of a teenage girl. Just when her mother seems as annoying as she could ever possibly be, Eli is disgusted to learn that her mother is pregnant. And in her forties! What depravity! Life for Eli seems as unbearable as it can get. Fortunately, as her home life spirals from disaster to disaster, Eli's passions are aroused by J.G. (Jeffrey Geoffrey), surely one of the coolest males in school.

     Colleen Sydor is a versatile writer who has demonstrated her talent with successful picture books like Camilla Chameleon and Raising a Little Stink. In turning her hand to writing a young adult novel, Sydor further demonstrates her prodigious talent. The 15-year-old protagonist's irreverent, sarcastic, goo-eyed and love-struck voice is perfect. Memories of being 15 are clearly has not so distant for Sydor that she has forgotten what it is like to be that age.

     My Mother Is a French Fry contains language and subject matter that is not suitable for immature readers, but these things add to the authenticity of Sydor's portrayal and add strength and credibility to the book. Teenaged girls will see a lot of themselves between the pages of Sydor's novel (or, in the event that they do not recognize themselves, they will certainly recognize others from their lives, including, perhaps, their mothers). For the rest of us, the book offers an intriguing glimpse into what goes on between the ears of teenagers.

     Sydor's sharp wit and playful sense of fun are highlights of a book filled with humour. There are laughs aplenty in Eli's constant pleas for help from various patron saints, her substitutions for swearing, her almost involuntary reactions to a selection of baby development book excerpts, and Sydor's clever chapter headings. Despite the laughs, beneath the surface is a hard-hitting and incisive examination of familial disharmony. The sudden infant death of Eli's sister has left her family with gaping holes they are inadequately equipped to handle. Only with the help of friends and considerable individual effort is the family able to begin to repair the broken strands of their family web.

     Over 250 pages in length, with 27 individually titled chapters, My Mother Is a French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed-Up Life is a funny book that mature readers will enjoy from first page to last. I had difficulty putting the book down and I expect the same will be true for most readers.

Highly Recommended.

Gregory Bryan works at University of Manitoba where he teaches children's literature courses in the Faculty of Education.

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

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