CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 5 . . . .October 27, 2006
The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie.
New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2006.
494 pp., cloth, $20.99.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.
Oh, who am I trying to fool? My entire study period has been wasted. It seems to me that my entire career at Ashbury has also been wasted! I have been so helpful to my fellow students: I've offered free private tutoring! I've offered lunchtime seminars for troubled teens! I realize my academic record may be intimidating, so I wear multicolored nail polish to show that I'm approachable - a free spirit! I hang little sprigs of tinsel from my spectacle frames each December! I know the birthday of every person in my roll-call class, and I always lead the class in "Happy Birthday"!
Secretly, I admit, I find many of my classmates annoying. I've often thought to myself, 'Good grief, these people are five-year-olds. Why must I spend my days amongst them?' But have I ever said such things aloud? No. I have been nothing but generous to them, and have kept these thoughts to myself.
And how have they repaid me? Have they been grateful or kind? Ho NO!"
Jaclyn Moriarty revisits Ashbury High in this young adult novel. Most of the story is told from the point of view of Bindy MacKenzie, the teen who typed the meeting transcript at the end of The Year of Secret Assignments. Bindy is the top student in all of her classes, but, little by little, things fall apart - assignments not finished, classes skipped. And Bindy just can't make herself care any more. Something is missing.
Bindy is an interesting study of a grade 11 girl who is gifted and an overachiever. Is she just sensible and well-organized or stiff and rigid? One of her favourite pastimes is listening to the conversations of others and then typing transcripts of what is said. In fact, one of the only complimentary things her peers can find to say about her is that she is a fast typist! Bindy always has the role of observer - on the outside looking in rather than participating. By the middle of the novel, her carefully ordered world begins slowly but surely to unravel. Readers will recognize Bindy as someone from their own experience or perhaps - gasp! - themselves. She is that aggravating person who drives others to the breaking point and yet for whom they also feel sorry. But does someone dislike her enough to plot her murder?
Moriarty blends the typical teen world of high school with a murder mystery and, at the same time, offers real insights into the psychology of today's teens and their (often dysfunctional) families. The book is clever and funny and parodies the thriller genre while also being poignant and thought-provoking. The reader is never sure whether or not Bindy is actually likeable, but there is no doubt she is both interesting and entertaining.
Once again, the adults are only lightly sketched in by Moriarty. They certainly play a role in the overall plot, but it is the teenagers who are the focus of the novel. Moriarty's writing style takes the form of 'sound bites' - short excerpts from Bindy's diary, transcripts of conversations, e-mails and letters. Not a style for those who like to sink into a page of prose perhaps, but great for younger teens or reluctant readers.
Although set in Australia, the novel and the teen concerns it addresses could be anywhere. In fact, the FAD Project (Friendship and Development) for students is uncannily like some recent educational initiatives in Ontario!
Don't let the unimaginative and rather juvenile cover discourage you. This is a fast-paced, original and witty story. The plot defies prediction and, unrealistic as it may be, provides a great read!
Ann Ketcheson is a former teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON.
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