CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007
Mirror Image. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
105 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-665-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55143-667-8 (cl.).
Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.
Review by Ruth Latta.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"I hoped each of you would look inside and try to find a bit of yourself to put into a piece of art."...Then he smiles.
This is not the normal Mr. Ripley. I'd say the smile is tinged with evil.
He claps his hands together and says, "Here's what we're going to do. I'm going to assign partners. You will spend time with this partner and try to get to know something about that person."
I have a very bad feeling about this.
K.L. Denman's novella, Mirror Image, is described in its promotional material as a "middle school novel" for "reluctant readers" - a "short, high-interest novel." I expected, not a work of literature, but a utility novel designed to get the target audience to read something. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mirror Image is a literary novel, a character-driven gem that is contemporary without being trendy or superficial. It is concerned with deep issues, not the latest teen craze. The story flows so gracefully that, if the word choice has been restricted in order to be simple, I did not notice.
The story is told through the heart and mind of 13-year-old Sable, a grade nine student who is interested in science and very aware of unpleasant current events, such as war and environmental deterioration. Fear is her prevailing emotion. Her room is decorated in black.
Sable is irritated in art class by the choice of the final project of the semester. Lacey, the "blond bimbo" in the class, suggests that they all make papier-mâché frames for mirrors and paste a poem or quote on the back of the mirror. Looking in the glass, you would "feel as if the poem is, like, inside you," to quote Lacey.
When Sable goes home to mull over the art project, the author surprises us by showing us Sable's mother speaking on the phone in a foreign language. It turns out that her first husband, Sable's father, was killed during their escape from Bosnia when Sable was three. After coming to Canada as a widowed refugee, Sable's mother married a Canadian and gave birth to twin boys. This turbulent background full of major changes is the reason for Sable's free-floating fear.
When Mr. Ripley, the art teacher, finds that no one is using the mirror project for introspection, he pairs up the students, deliberately refusing to let friends work together. Sable is partnered with Lacey, and neither girl is pleased. In order to pass, they reluctantly agree to cooperate.
The title, Mirror Image, refers to more than just the art project. As Sable and Lacey get to know each other better, they find that they are more similar than they imagined. Both girls have concerns about their mothers, though for different reasons. Sable's mother is a bit of a smotherer, and Sable finds her difficulties with English embarrassing. She is much to be preferred to Lacey's mother, however. This icy fashion designer is dubbed "Shiny Mom" because she looks glossy, like a model, and has chosen a sterile dazzling white for her interior home decor. Worse, she is cold and harsh to Lacey.
Image is not necessarily reality, as the girls discover. One's reflection may be a contrast to one's real nature. The poem on the back may whisper our real heart's truth. The gap between appearance and reality is highlighted throughout the novel. "Shiny Mom's" all-white home interior is an interesting contrast, not only to Sable's all-black bedroom, but also to her home's exterior. On the outside, the dwelling is a "dump" - decrepit, unpainted, surrounded by weeds. The fallacy of judging a book by its cover is again illustrated when an unprepossessing hairdresser without a proper salon works wonders during a hair crisis. Most importantly, as Sable gets to know Lacey, she discovers the substance beneath her "legally blonde" exterior. The girls eventually confide secrets that stir each other's empathy and respect.
Lacey senses that Sable's overriding emotion is fear. To boost her new friend's confidence, she gives her a make-over and then takes her shopping. At first, Sable assumes that Lacey is tarting her up to attract boys, but after more thought, she decides that Lacey likes the beauty that comes with self-confidence. She concludes, further, that creating beauty of any kind is an assertion of power against the destructive and harmful forces in the world. In the end, the girls complete their mirrors, get a high rating from Mr. Ripley, and go on to collaborate on a larger scale beautification project.
One leaves Mirror Image realizing that friendship between women of any age can be a force for transformation, not only of their own lives but also of the world around them. Author K.L. Denman has written a sophisticated insightful novel that appeals to youthful idealism. While developing a teething ring for reading skill development, she has managed to create a work of art.
Ruth Latta's latest mystery, Illusions Die (Ottawa, Baico, 2006, $16.95) is intended for grown-ups.
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