CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 14 . . . . March 18, 2005
The title heroine of Yvonne Prinz's first novel, almost-13-year-old Clare, is grappling with an unusual problem: she has to say goodbye to her childhood and wholly imaginary friend, Elsa. The entirely unreal Elsa is almost the only "real" friend Clare has ever had. But as Clare teeters on the brink of puberty, she begins to feel that having an imaginary companion is well, kinda pathetic. Elsa just has to go.
Elsa is Clare's polar opposite, everything she would secretly like to be. Elsa is easy and self-assured, stylish and sophisticated. Clare, on the other hand, is the social outcast, the girl other kids don't quite "get." When the two agree to a trial separation, Elsa disappears to the boutiques and boîtes of Paris' Left Bank while Clare is left alone in Nowheresville to face the questionable joys of pubescent life crushes, hormones, moodiness, and the special nightmare that is bra-shopping with your mother.
Prinz gives Clare a nice, slightly world-weary tone. She's a 30-year-old cynic trapped in a 13-year-old, flat-chested body. And the author also makes clever use of Elsa, who, even after her banishment, crops up at all the crucial moments to offer Clare immensely helpful, if frustratingly oblique, advice. But in many ways, this is a very familiar story. Clare is the slightly eccentric outsider whose parents are well-meaning but disconnected. She has the free-spirited aunt who, by example, shows her the value of following her own path in life. She has one talent in this case, running and that will eventually point her in the direction of genuine friendship and some small level of social acceptance.
None of this involves trooping boldly into unmapped territory. The loner searching for his or her place in the world is a pretty standard character in literature for young people. From Anne Shirley to Harry Potter (pre-Hogwarts), they have populated the farms and boarding-schools and small towns of some of our most familiar YA novels. But to be fair, there are only so many things 13-year-old girls angst about, as I recall, so perhaps some imitation was unavoidable.
It will be interesting to see where Prinz takes us in future books of what is intended to be a long-running series. Now that she has introduced her characters and established her themes, she'll have more latitude to get creative in upcoming volumes. Elsa will clearly be a recurring character jetting in from all kinds of exotic locales, no doubt but I hope we also get a repeat visit from the brainiac Paul, shuffled off to prep school at the end of this novel. Clare is the heart and soul of this book, however, and your enjoyment of it is largely contingent on how much you take to her. With her tough exterior and "adults are clueless" attitude, she is sure to appeal to kids, especially girls, who are themselves on the cusp of young adulthood.
Janice Weaver is a Toronto-based writer and editor.
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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.