________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006



Alyxandra Harvey-Fitzhenry.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
118 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-489-X.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Joan Marshall.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


He didn't look at her, instead fiddled with his tool belt, attaching it so it hung properly.

"We've talked about this, honey."

She rolled her eyes.

"You've talked, Dad, and I've had to listen. That's not exactly the same thing." She wanted to make him understand, but she didn't know what else to say. He never wanted to talk about it. It was easier for him; he felt comforted, safe. She was the one who had to sneak into the locker room to shave her legs. She was the one who hadn't had her hair cut since it happened. She wasn't even allowed to work at her embroidery loom or make her own dinner anymore.

Her dad looked up."It's just safer this way,' he said. "You could have an accident or hurt yourself."

"I'm not her," she said quietly. The words seemed to hang in the air like knives. When he didn't say anything, she sighed. Hugo Dubois was every bit as stubborn as his daughter. "Dad, I'm sixteen, I think I can handle it."


Loosely based on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Waking introduces 16-year-old Beauty Dubois who is coping with her mother's suicide and her father's anxious protection, along with the usual early high school jitters over friendship and first love.

     Sure that she is the centre of everyone's derision and feeling very left out after her mother's death, Beauty is befriended by newcomer, Luna, whose off-the-wall, forthright behaviour and true friendship give Beauty the courage she needs to deal with her father's fears, resume her art and get involved with Poe, a boy she has been admiring from afar. 

     As it takes place in a generic high school named Briar High, this book's setting could be any town, anywhere. The hallway/locker scenes and the class behaviour and assignments are authentic and will be familiar to present-day high school students. Beauty's yard is thick with roses that climb the house and nearly obscure the door. Luna's unconventional Victorian home on Thorntree Avenue has a reputation for being haunted and is filled with artists welcomed by her hippy mother, Star.

     Beauty herself, an artistic, sensitive teenager, struggles to cope with her mother's death and her father's mourning in which he hides all sharp implements that might draw Beauty to the suicide her mother chose when she could not live with mental illness any longer. In her dreams, Beauty sees herself as a child, her mother in her wedding dress, and a dark Shadow Lady who seems to be stalking her but ultimately is warning her of the dangers of depression. As Beauty's depression lifts, her art blossoms. Beauty gathers enough strength from her friendship with Luna and her love of Poe to turn her life around to a more positive future.

     Luna and Poe are both strong, cheerful characters who encourage Beauty to reject the gossip and hurtful comments of others and to build friendships that empower instead of tear down. Star, Luna's mother, is the welcoming, wise adult who accepts Beauty for who she is and radiates the love and acceptance that Beauty needs. It's a little odd, however, that Star, who must have been born in the early eighties, lives a hippy lifestyle in 2006. Beauty's father is an anxious, absent man who hovers over his daughter but cannot articulate his feelings, allowing them to come to the surface in awkward silence rather than love. 

     The dialogue between the characters is modern and witty, even amusing in places, and moves the plot along well. For example, when Beauty answers Luna's questions about the locked liquor cabinet that contains knives and other sharp instruments, we learn about Beauty's mother's suicide. The chapters are short, and the action advances the plot and character development. The dream sequences, which are more surreal and literary, are, thankfully, short, and will not deter the reader as they are also satisfyingly creepy enough.

     The many connections between Sleeping Beauty and this novel (their names - Rose, Beauty Dubois, Star and Luna; the Briar High School; the roses that Beauty cultivates that cover their home; Beauty's pricking of her finger in the art room; the spinning wheel in her dreams; the book's title, and so on) call for a literate audience that knows this fairy tale well, a diminishing group in today's schools. Adults who are familiar with the fairy tale may find the allegory heavy going and groan in recognition, but today's teens may not even see the allegory and will probably focus more on the relationships among the teens rather than the fairy tale connections. It is unfortunate that the author's experience with real roses seems limited, as sharp clippers (which would have been forbidden by Beauty's father) are needed to cut back roses, and roses cannot be snapped off the stem the way Beauty presents Luna with a flower.

     Waking is a well-designed book whose front cover features a three dimensional red rose dripping blood that will attract the intended audience. This short novel will be useful for female high school students who must choose a novel to read in class, and it will also fill a need with younger teens who are looking forward with trepidation to high school life.


A former high school teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB, Joan Marshall is now a Winnipeg bookseller who recalls her parents reading fairy tales to her when she was four-years-old.


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

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