CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 17 . . . . April 29, 2005
I suddenly got the feeling that I wasn't alone on the roof. Then I saw Elsa's tan, slender legs next to mine. She was wearing Moroccan leather sandals and a pretty blue sleeveless dress with flowers on it. I looked over at her and smiled. She was fanning herself with a slender black book.
"My gosh, I don't remember it ever being so hot around here," she said.
"What brings you back?" I asked.
"Well, I was getting all these letters: 'come home', 'don't come home'; some really mixed messages. And then this thing about Aunt Rusty! Is it true?" I nodded.
"That traitor! Have you spoken to her?" "Nope," I said. "She calls but I won't talk to her. I can't imagine what I'm supposed to say to her. 'Oh, by the way, Aunt Rusty, your new boyfriend is the love of my life, so could you please break up with him immediately?'"
"Would you like to put a curse on her? I've learned a thing or two abroad, in fact I spent a weekend in Algiers and "
"That's okay, I think my days of putting curses on people are over."
Still There, Clare, Yvonne Prinz's first novel, is the story of 12-year-old Clare, the only child of a workaholic father and a mother who recently quit her all-consuming job as a lawyer and is now "auditioning for the role of Super-Mom." Clare is a loner whose best friend is the exciting - but imaginary Elsa. They've been together since Clare can remember; however, with the end of grade seven fast approaching, Clare has decided it's time to say good-bye to Elsa. They agree to a trial separation. Elsa will go to Paris for the summer. Clare can write her if she feels the need to communicate. When Clare's only real (but less than optimal) friend, Paul, announces he's being sent to boarding school, it looks as though the up-coming summer - and life in general - will be even lonelier for Clare. Her relationship with her mother is somewhat strained. Of her father, Clare says, "I think my Dad would be a lot happier to see me if he could figure out a way to bill me for the time." Clare is quite close to her Aunt Rusty. However, when Aunt Rusty begins dating Clare's P.E. teacher, on whom Clare has a crush, Clare attempts to cut her aunt out of her life as well. Eventually, Clare's relationship with her mother improves, her dad shows up at one of her track meets, she learns to live with her aunt's choices, and she makes a new friend. By the end of the novel, Clare is ready to bid Elsa adieu.
Even without Elsa, her alter-ego, Clare is a likeable, sensitive, well-rounded protagonist. She participates in track and field and enjoys root-beer floats at the Dairy Delite, comic books, watching sci-fi movies with Paul, and spending time sitting on the roof outside her bedroom window. She does not appear to be particularly shy. In fact, it is difficult to understand why Clare would not have made a real girlfriend. Her own explanation - "I've always used [Elsa] as an excuse not to make real friends" is the only one the reader gets. Clare is going through a tough time, but this reader could not really feel her pain or frustration. Consequently, some of her reactions to people and events do not seem entirely credible. Although all are somewhat cliché, Clare's parents, her aunt and her gym teacher are rounded enough to be believable. The author paints full portraits of Clare's friends - Elsa, Paul and Allison. It is difficult, however, to understand the behaviour of Clare's sketchily drawn school acquaintances, and other peripheral characters (such as a secretary and Tiny, the owner of Dairy Delite) are completely cliché.
While Still There, Clare has a good story idea and an interesting and likeable protagonist, this reviewer felt it could have stood more thorough, detail-oriented editing. For instance, the story is told in the first person, past tense. During the first third of the novel, there are numerous disconcerting verb tense changes. Example:
I left Paul to rummage through the library because I knew it was annoying Miss Steadman. The things that interest Paul amaze me. The law library is as exciting as a paint store to me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him pushing himself along the bookcases on a wheeled ladder.
The novel feels very contemporary. There are references to Martha Stewart, solar powered housing and cell phones. Despite the fact that Clare has spent the first 11 years of her life in day-care and after-school programmes (rather than with her parents), many of her thoughts and interests belong to an older generation. For instance, she says, "I gave that man the best years of my life and all I got was chest pain." Her favourite sci-fi movie is Bladerunner (1982) and Harrison Ford is "her type." Allison, a new friend introduced near the end of the novel, also drops names from her parents' generation despite having an older brother. She's an Elvis Costello fan, and when she hears the name Elsa, she says, "Like the lion on Born Free [a 1966 movie, or 1974 TV show]." There is no recognition that these references are dated. They are presented as contemporary, 12-year-old knowledge.
Girls who want stories portraying "real life" may enjoy Still There, Clare.
Karen Rankin lives in Toronto, ON, where she writes and helps edit stories for children.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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.