CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007
The 25 Pains of Kennedy Baines.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2006.
240 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
Reaching the wide main path, and no longer having to check behind her, Kennedy locks eyes with the cat. Too afraid to think about being afraid, her senses become concentrated in the glow of those eyes. Honest animal eyes that hunt to kill, to fill an honest belly. There is no deception in his eyes and no fancy words coming from his mouth. His muscled shoulders roll under the golden fur as each paw leaves an imprint on the dirt.
Sing, she hears the voice in her head command. Now! A wavery humming starts up in her throat. Focused on his unblinking eyes, she starts to feel his clear and solid presence as her own. The tension in her own muscles feels no longer separate from his. The humming moves down into her chest, then widens into her belly. Sing! She takes an impossibly large breath, then, as if her diaphragm were a catapult, hurls the sound outward, hurls it into those mirror-like eyes and beyond to the forest canopy.
If only real life in the modern world could be more like it was in Jane Austen's time, wishes 15-year-old Kennedy Baines who is rereading her favourite book, Pride and Prejudice, for the third time. She loves immersing herself in the chivalry and romance of the period, losing herself in the pages of this beloved classic. Meanwhile the rest of her life fails to proceed quite as she would have wished. For one thing, her best friend Sarina starts acting strangely, and, when Kennedy finally learns the reason, she finds it more than a little disconcerting. It turns out that Sarina's parents are separating, and, as Sarina works through her grief and anger, Kennedy faces her own worries about her parents' relationship. Ever since she and her family moved to the west coast from Fredericton four years earlier, Kennedy has wondered what prompted the move and if it had anything to do with a certain director of one of her mom's plays - a man whom she had found her mother kissing not long before they moved. Afraid to actually confront her mother about what she had seen, Kennedy’s been anxious and suspicious ever since. Dealing with Sarina's sorrow brings all of her own feelings closer to the surface.
And as if parental concerns aren't enough, Kennedy starts receiving disturbing MSN messages from a potential cyber-stalker. Furthermore, she is frustrated with her boyfriend's timidity and wishes that she could somehow encourage him a little (although she vehemently rejects the basket of condoms that her mother tries to leave in her bathroom!). And, to throw a little guilt into the mix, she also manages to break her little sister's ankle! Not the sorts of issues that plagued Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, they are, nevertheless, some of the challenges that Kennedy encounters in her chaotically typical teen world.
Her summer begins to show serious signs of improvement, however, when an old friend of her mother's comes to visit from England, bringing with her her seriously hot 18-year-old son! Colin is good-looking, charming, daring and not-at-all shy. When he shows interest in Kennedy, she is flattered and excited, thinking that he might just hold the key to her dreams of romance. But ultimately she discovers that Colin is not all that he appears to be. Or perhaps he is exactly what he appears to be....
The author uses several fresh and innovative plot devices to move her contemporary teen story along. The book is regularly interspersed with Kennedy's itemized list of "pains" which range from babysitting (pain #4) to self-consciousness (pain #14) and feeling abandoned (pain #25). This provides an interesting structure for the narrative, as does Kennedy's frequent allusions to Pride and Prejudice. As she clumsily navigates the events of her own life, she simultaneously makes her way through Pride and Prejudice, and the author brings readers with her on that journey by periodically including excerpts from Austen's novel throughout this one. It is an interesting and effective technique that will hopefully encourage teen readers who haven't yet delved into the classics to do so.
Kennedy's story will appeal to an older teen audience as it grapples, in its unique way, with a wide range of very real issues that teen girls of today might face such as cyber-stalking, a potential danger of on-line communications, as well as the typical family traumas and questions of identity and self- image that abound. Crane touches on many issues in this book, though none in any real depth, and many are just mentioned fleetingly. For example, Kennedy's #1 pain, shoplifting (and her discomfort with it) is the opening chapter of the book but is never mentioned again thereafter. And, although there is considerable discussion about Kennedy's feelings about her mother and her concerns that her mother had cheated on her father back in Fredericton, the entire resolution to that transpires in a brief discussion where her mother admits to once considering cheating on her dad, but then says "You don't have to worry about your dad and me. We're lifers, I'm afraid." Even the cyber-stalker plotline fizzles somewhat when it is anticlimactically revealed that it was all a hoax by her younger brother.
This reader also felt rather distant from the characters, due partly to the fact that the book is written in the third person but in the present tense which felt awkward. Yet teen girls will potentially enjoy, and perhaps identify with, Kennedy's roller coaster ride romance with Colin as she progresses from her initial infatuation to eventually seeing him more realistically as the troubled and narcissistic young man that he is.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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