________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover Girl #3.

Nichole McGill.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2009.
207 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55470-143-8.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Ruth Latta.

*** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.


Taxi man lowered his voice. “I don't want to frighten you. But I have this friend...My friend, he likes little girls, little girls like you."...

The wind like an iced hand is inching up my spine. I'm in my ravine, wimpy Mimico, crouching in a bed of dead, mulched leaves. My skin puckers into goose bumps, my trembling thigh muscles on the verge of seizing...Only the ...sweet adrenaline coursing from behind my bulged eyes to my chilled feet reminds me that I'm alive, so terrifyingly alive even as I strain not to move. My brain is screaming. Can you hear it? “If you move he might see you. And if he sees you, he'll collect you, and if he collects you you may never see anything ever again.”

Sidonia, aka Syd, seems to be a typical teenager who shows some special sparks of talent and initiative. She excels in track. She also rehabilitated a mountain bike which she uses to deliver papers in her Toronto suburb near the Mimico ravine. But Syd's life is fraught with stress. Her father left, and she hasn't seen him for almost a year. Her mother, upset and angry over the break-up, is obsessed with physical appearance, particularly Syd's, as junior bridesmaid-to-be at a relative's wedding. Syd's best friend, Alicia, uses her as an alibi to break her parents' rules. Worst of all, two murders of young women, possibly part of a series, have occurred in Toronto, and the detailed media coverage has left its mark on Syd's psyche. On learning that the second victim, Girl #2, had long red hair like hers, Syd chopped hers off. On her delivery route early in the morning, she cannot shake the fear of becoming Girl #3.

     Syd's glimpses of Girl #2's ghost are intriguing:

She moves closer to me. This close up, I see her skin is as solid as mine, so real, and our eyes lock. I read Girl #2's mind. “You haven't beat Faceless Man...He's healing now. The boulder didn't do anything. You know what will happen when he's better...He'll be back on the road soon and he'll be working with his accomplice, the taxi driver. They've got other friends who helped with me, who didn't get caught, like the taxi driver. They'll keep playing their games unless you stop them.”

     In addition to incorporating these eerie encounters, author Nicholle McGill employs two other techniques to build unease and fear - vivid interior monologues and time shifts. Frightening, realistic scenarios are played out before the reader, but when they turn out to be in Syd's head, one feels a slight letdown. And the time shifts are confusing.

     The late Carol Shields once told me at a Kingston writers' workshop that all novelists who aspire to be literary never present their stories chronologically but always break the time line. Experienced readers are prepared for flashbacks and flashes forward, provided the forward motion of the storyline is strong. Unfortunately, there is more past action than present action in Girl #3.

     The present of the story involves a paragraph establishing that Syd is crouched in a ravine, hiding from "The Faceless Man." As she huddles there, her mind roams to the recent and distant past. Although the author inserts words and phrases like "Now" or "Last October" to orient the reader, it is easy to get lost. As an experienced reader, with a B.A. in English, who writes novels and reads at least three a week, I had to make notes on each chapter to get a handle on what happened when. Would a 14-year-old reader, with a computer, an iPod and DVDs available to enjoy, be willing to sort it out?

     The Alicia/Syd relationship could have been expanded to further the suspense. In one of the flashbacks, we learn that Alicia knew Girl #1 and switched to Syd's school to get away from memories of her short life and premature death. There is a creepy scene where Alicia pulls Syd off a city bus because a sinister youth is studying them. Alicia's personality leaves something to be desired; she never listens to Syd, she uses her and accuses her of making a play for boys that she (Alicia) wants. Trying to keep Alicia from harm, Syd falls into the clutches of sexually aggressive Matt and has to fight him off. For a while, I wondered if Alicia might be procuring for the killer, but I was wrong.

     The killer is not the disappearing dad, the aggressive youth or anyone from the initial set-up of characters. Girl #3 is not so much a mystery as a "psychological suspense thriller."

     One series of scenes stand out in memory - Syd in her junior bridesmaid dress fleeing the church, hopping on a city bus to the ravine, then descending into the brush to see if she actually killed "The Faceless Man." This segment cries out to be filmed.

Recommended with reservations.

Ruth Latta, who lives in Ottawa, ON and is the author of five novels, is currently revising another one and worrying about the time shifts.

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

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