________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 3 . . . .September 28, 2007


The Actual Total Truth.

Karen Rivers.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2007.
202 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-0-439-93755-9.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Jennifer Ariel Caldwell.

*** /4



Finally Mum gets into the car. I'm already late. Great.

"I'm glad we have a few minutes alone together," she says after we've driven for a bit. "I've been worrying how you're coping with things."

"What things?" I say, chewing vigorously and getting crumbs all over her car floor.

"Oh," she says, "like the baby and stuff."

"It's fine," I say emphatically. I know all she thinks about is the baby. And what does she mean by "and stuff?" I have lots of other things on my mind other than him. Like, for example, math. And diving. And being taller than everyone else. And animals getting shot. And Nigel being a pain. And how my friends sometimes look at me like I'm too weird for them. And how they sometimes talk about me when I'm not around. I mean, obviously I don't know that they do this, but I'm pretty sure they do because sometimes they give each other these looks that say, "We've been talking about Carly behind her back!"

"Are you sure?" she says. "I know my attention has been a bit focused on him and I wanted to make sure that-"

"It's fine," I say again. "What do you want me to say? He's cute. He isn't making me upset."

"Good," she says. "Because you seem kind of cranky and I was just wondering if-"

"I have a lot going on," I yell. Luckily, we're at that moment pulling up in front of the ugly purple school…


Carly's back! The irrepressible heroine of award-winning Waiting to Dive and The Gold Digger's Club (re-released by Scholastic as Barely Hanging On) narrates her latest adventures as an 11-year-old in the trenches of family changes, body changes, summer school (a.k.a. "Math for Tortured Losers"), friendships, and a subtle mystery.

     That weekend, Carly's stepdad whisks her and her friends to the cabin (somewhere in the Gulf Islands), where they find a shot porpoise. Cue the mystery! Who's shooting porpoises? Carly and her friends want to find out, but they have to return to the city. Carly goes to her summer math class (where Nigel is assigned to be her peer tutor!) and diving camp for a week, then escapes back to the cabin with her family.

      Carly discovers that Nigel's family bought a cabin on "her" island, and she's mortified when Nigel's dad rescues her from jellyfish-infested waters. Carly's accident-prone; so far, she's cut her forehead, been stung on the bum by a bee, been stung on the lip by a wasp, and is now covered with jellyfish stings. Back in Victoria for the week, Carly tries to convince her friends that Nigel and his dad are the porpoise shooters, and, during diving practice, she whacks her head on the diving platform and needs stitches.

      When they return to the island, Carly and her friends snoop around Nigel's cabin, and Carly falls through the crumbly porch. Her friends run when Nigel and his dad return. Carly's probably sprained her ankle, and Nigel walks her back to her cabin. Carly's quick thinking saves her and Nigel from a cougar en route, and the denouement rushes quickly after that. It turns out that Math for Tortured Losers is actually a prep class for grade 6, not remedial math. Carly doesn't hate Nigel so much, and, since she can't dive with stitches on her forehead, she's about to be sent off to horse camp with her best friend Montana.

      Carly's narrative voice drives this novel, and, if readers like the voice, they're going to love the book. Carly is engaging, bouncy, and believable. She narrates in the present tense and speaks directly to the reader. The porpoise-shooting mystery subplot is secondary to Carly's internal process, and readers are somewhat distanced from the action in the novel since it's filtered through Carly's narration.

      Author Karen Rivers blends information from the previous two novels into the text without being obtrusive. The Actual Total Truth stands alone, but it does leave the reader wondering about occasional details (e.g. the name of the city, which may be Victoria, BC.)

      Tweens will understand Carly's preoccupations with school, sports, body changes, friends, the annoying but potentially cute Nigel, and her family. Girls between ages 9-12 will cruise through this quick read and ask for more.


Jennifer Ariel Caldwell attends SFU's creative writing program, volunteers for the Red Cedar Award, and works on several library projects in Vancouver, BC.

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

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