________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009


Not Suitable for Family Viewing.

Vicki Grant.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2009.
289 pp., pbk, $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-55468-180-8.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.



My mother is everywhere. I can’t believe I used to like it. I guess when you think about it though, why wouldn’t I have? It was the most natural thing in the world when I was little. I remember in kindergarten this girl crying because she missed her mother. I didn’t get it. I put my arm around her like I was so much older and wiser and said, “Don’t worry. That’s all right. Just turn on the TV. You’ll see your mother then!” It was like having a magic mirror or a guardian angel or Santa’s cell number or something. I could see my mother whenever I wanted.

I suddenly understand something. It sounds like a real hippy-religious-freak kind of thing to say but it makes so much sense. My mother is everywhere –– and nowhere. I could probably walk into a store in Katmandu, Reykjavik, Peru, you name it –– and pick up a magazine with her face on the cover. But when was the last time I saw her? Like, I mean, actually saw her? She’s like a hologram or something. She’s there but she’s not.

I say no to TV, thank Kay for the food and head up to bed. I am pretty tired but I know I won’t be able to sleep. I lie on my bunk, stare at the ceiling and try to picture Mom’s face. All I see is that person on TV. I can’t remember the real her. I can get the clothes right and the hair right but her face is either blank or just a cut-and-paste job from some promo shot. The more I look, the less I see. It makes me feel like I’m draining away. I’ve got to stop thinking about this stuff. I need to take my mind off it before I go seriously crazy.

On the surface, Robin’s life seems perfect. She lives in a beautiful home and has the money for anything she wants because her mother is Mimi Schwartz, the host of a very popular television talk show. But Robin’s favourite pastimes are eating junk food and watching endless reruns of her mother’s show. Totally by chance, Robin finds an old high school ring and a photograph, apparently hidden by her mom, which raise questions about just who her mother really is and how she became such a success in New York if her origins were truly in Port Minton, NS. The discovery brings Robin out of her seemingly self-induced stupor and propels her to look for answers in a tiny Canadian fishing village.

     Like much young adult fiction, this is a coming-of-age novel in which the main character finds out who she is, both literally and figuratively. Despite the difficulties in this process, Robin perseveres and eventually comes to improved self-awareness and self-esteem. She accepts herself as she is. However, Vicki Grant adds many layers to her well thought out plot, and there are just enough complications and unexpected turns to keep any reader happy.

     Woven into the novel is a love story which rings true despite a rather clichéd beginning where girl meets boy and there is instant animosity before they realize how much they have in common. Another layer of the plot adds both mystery and suspense to the story. Robin follows the clues of the ring and the photograph to Port Minton, and there she does some sleuthing to uncover the truth about her mother’s past. This action is not without danger, however. Someone runs Robin off the road in a hit and run “accident.” A brick with a note attached is thrown through the front window of the house where she is staying. Is the truth so terrible, Robin wonders, that someone will stop at nothing to keep it hidden?

     Robin is certainly the classic “poor little rich kid.” The only solid influence in her life is Anita, the long-term housekeeper, since Robin’s parents have been divorced for years and her mother is far too busy with her career. In Robin’s own words, “She thinks she’s going to make me laugh and then –– just like that –– everything will be all better. Doesn’t she get it? Why doesn’t anyone around here get it? ‘Tickle her’ ‘Give her a candy.’ ‘Buy her a new car...’ a new computer...’ “a new friend...’ Whatever. It’s always the same thing. ‘Throw her a bone. She’ll be okay.’” ( pp. 4-5) Thus, Grant tackles the question of fame and the emptiness which may accompany it. Do you have everything? Or nothing? Does being famous inevitably lead to recreating yourself and thus living a lie?

    Not Suitable for Family Viewing is an excellent teen novel with interesting characters and a complex plot tinged with both romance and mystery. The whole is peppered with Grant’s wonderful sense of comedy. There are places in the book where I actually giggled out loud. The humour does not come from put-downs or “smartass” remarks but simply Robin’s own ability to laugh and to convey humour through her tongue-in-cheek descriptions of people, places and situations. Some of the fun also comes from the short descriptions of the contents of Mimi’s TV shows and the obvious fact that they are exactly the opposite of what is happening in the star’s real life. For instance, when Robin knows she has once again pushed Anita to the point of losing her temper and exploding, Robin’s comment is, “Despite what Mimi’s Thanksgiving Special might lead one to believe, this is as close to a family tradition as we get around here.” (pp. 5-6)

   This novel may be entitled Not Suitable for Family Viewing, but it is definitely suitable for anyone to read and is virtually guaranteed to please!

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, 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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