CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007
Kimberly Joy Peters.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2006.
189 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
"I need a bathroom break," I told him. I didn't have to go very badly, but he was acting stupid, and I wanted to have some space before I said something I'd regret later.
When I came back in, he was ripping up the sketches. And not just into a couple of pieces, either—he was tearing them over and over again into little tiny bits no bigger than my fingernail. In less than five minutes he'd managed to turn hours of work into confetti.
I lunged at him, trying to save my artwork and shove him away.
"What are you doing?" I screamed, tears pouring from my eyes. "Get away from them! Get away!"
"I'm just eliminating the competition," he said.
"Leave them alone!"
"If you love me, you shouldn't care about these drawings!" he roared, ripping another sketch apart.
"I don't love you—I hate you!" I screamed back at him.
His hand came out of nowhere and slapped me hard on the face, knocking me backwards onto the floor. I hadn't even seen it coming.
When Caitlyn's mom and stepfather finally become pregnant (after years of trying), Caitlyn isn't entirely sure how she herself feels about this long-awaited development. Actually, she does know how she feels: like she wasn't good enough so they needed a new baby, one that would really belong to the two of them. Obviously she was just the mistake that her mother made when she was too young to know better. With this new baby, she and Mike would finally get it right. That is how Caitlyn feels.
And who can she talk to about her crazy, mixed-up feelings? Her mom and Mike are so caught up in the excitement of it all that she can hardly burst their bubble. Her best friend Ashley isn't really an option since Ashley seems to spend all of her time these days with Brandon, her boyfriend. Even when it is just the two of them, it doesn't feel the same anymore and Caitlyn just doesn't feel like she can share her misgivings and insecurities with her. Or with anyone.
Until Tyler comes along. Tyler who is gorgeous and a little older and more experienced. And who only has eyes for her. He assures Caitlyn that no matter what happens with her new sibling, she will always have him and will always be his number one priority. Caitlyn is elated and can't believe how lucky she is to have found such a perfect, loving boyfriend. And she keeps telling herself that, even when their relationship starts moving too fast for her, and even when Tyler displays a jealous and violent side that frightens her. Eventually her marks begin to drop, she has less and less time for her friends and for her art, and she finds herself lying to her parents, all in order to keep Tyler happy and to prove to him that she loves him as much as he loves her. But if she is really so "in love," why does her self-portrait, an assignment for her art class, keep trying to tell a different story?
This honest and insightful teen novel demonstrates how easily a vulnerable young person can fall into the kind of trap that ensnared Caitlyn. Peters shows young adult readers that girls don't seek out abusive boyfriends, but the situation isn't always as straightforward as "why stay with him if he treats you badly?" Through Caitlyn, readers see how she feels that she gets a lot from this relationship, a lot that she doesn't want to lose, and she honestly believes that if she can just do the right things, say the right things, be the right girl, then Tyler will be the perfect, adoring boyfriend that he often seems to be. In her case, it takes something very dramatic and public and humiliating to make her see and/or admit the truth.
Painting Caitlyn is a provocative story with an important message. It is written clearly and simply, and teens will be quick to pick up on the message while hopefully also developing a deeper appreciation for how victims of abuse find themselves in these sorts of situations.
One thing that may have added to the story's impact, however, would have been a more well-developed portrait of Tyler. Despite his central role in the story, he remained a fairly flat character, and readers may wish to know more about what he was thinking and feeling, and the influences that had shaped him as a person. Also, although Caitlyn's story has a satisfying ending in the sense that everything works out happily for her, this may, in fact, come across as too neat and tidy a resolution to this all-too-common situation. As Caitlyn takes a stand and opens up about her experiences with Tyler, she and her story threaten to become too preachy. However, in the end, readers will be gratified that she pulls through it all and receives the support she needs to let go of this hurtful relationship. Although the story is somewhat predictable, it could be useful for generating important discussions and should find a ready audience in most junior high and high school libraries.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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