________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 5. . . .October 24, 2008


Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge.

Karen McCombie.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
235 pp., pbk., $8.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99329-6.

Subject Headings:
Teenage girls-Juvenile fiction.
Sisters-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Jonine Bergen.

*** /4



Do you want to know a secret?
The secret is, I've got lots of secrets.
Some of my secrets are so old I've kind of half forgotten them.
Some are around me all the time, every day.
Some are so weird I can't tell anyone about them, 'cause they'd laugh at me or think I was a freak. (Well, drawing circles around the freckles on your arms when you're sleepwalking is pretty freaky, I guess.)
Some of my secrets are so spangly and special that I hold them inside of me, like a sparkler in the dark.
My secrets come in all shapes and sizes - some are weeny and floaty-light; some are heart-shaped, and some are, er... mouse-shaped.


Laurel Ferguson (Lemmie to her friends) and her parents have lived in Balgownie, Scotland, for the past year. During this time, Lemmie has carved a comfortable niche for herself as the spontaneous, fun-loving quirky kid in her school. At home, Lemmie feels that her parents really don't understand her, though they try to accept her off-beat sense of fashion and decorating. The only negative in her life is that her sister, whom she calls Rose Rouge, didn't make the move from Edinburgh to Balgownie with her. To Lemmie, Rose is everything she wants to be. "She's entirely fabulous. She's my idol, my hero, a star. She's fun (in a wild way) and wild (in a funny way)....She's the only one who really understood and really tried to help during that whole horrible time back in Edinburgh."

     Part of creating a new life for herself in Balgownie has been suppressing all the negative memories she has from Edinburgh - even from herself. So, when a phantom from the past arrives, in the form of Sian Ellis, the very foundation of Lemmie's new creation is shaken.

     In Edinburgh, Sian had been the "new girl." She had used Lemmie to gain entry into the school community. When she was established as one of the popular crowd, she started a whisper campaign that ultimately cut Lemmie off from her friends, teachers and her family. Sian had successfully convinced everyone, including Lemmie, that, because Lemmie acted differently and responded differently from the crowd, there must be something wrong with her psychologically. The people who should have supported Lemmie didn't believe her. Sian was able to convince everyone Lemmie was the real problem - not her. The only person who believed in Lemmie during this traumatic time was Rose Rouge.

     So, when Sian arrives in Balgownie, Lemmie's hard won confidence in herself, her friends and family is called into question. Lemmie knows how persuasive Sian can be. More importantly, Sian knows the secrets Lemmie has hidden in the past. When Sian threatens to reveal the past unless Lemmie helps her again, Lemmie doesn't know what to do. And, this time, Rose Rouge is noticeably absent. It appears Rose Rouge and the marshmallow magic aren't going to be enough - Lemmie is going to have to face the past before it evolves into her future.

     My first impression of Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge was not a favourable one. The bubblegum pink cover with metallic red writing surrounded by stars, flowers and fashion accessories screamed that this book was glossy brain candy filled with sweetness and a whole lot of air. Fortunately, I was wrong.

     The reality is this novel is a treat not because it is sweet, but because of its originality, expressive voice, and rich substance. Behind the marshmallow magic and rose-coloured glasses, Lemmie is a teenager struggling to find acceptance and confidence after being bullied and harassed by a girl she had thought was her friend. Karen McCombie is an experienced author who has a good understanding of group dynamics of girls. Sian and Lemmie's relationship, though extreme, touches the reader because it could be based in reality.

     I found Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge a hard book to get into. The first few chapters felt flighty and, well, sugary. However, the depth of Lemmie's character grew with her account. Karen McCombie's use of first person narrative, combined with British phrases and humour, reminded me of the successful "Confessions of Georgia Nicolson" series. McCombe has developed an effective narrative arch with this tale. Lemmie is particularly effective in telling her story (though sometimes confusing and dizzying) because she shows the reader the world through her very bright kaleidoscope of colours.

     My guest reader, a 15-year-old girl, also found this novel slow moving initially. She said that the cover turned her off because it seemed to be for a younger reader. However, after the first few chapters, she wanted to know the secret in Lemmie's past and how she was going to deal with Sian's intrusion into her life. She said Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge was an interesting read with a surprise ending. I did ask a 13-year-old girl to read it first; however, she didn't find it appealing.

     Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge won't be for everyone. However, there are some children and young adults that could use a bit of marshmallow magic in their lives, and this book should be on the shelves for them.


Jonine Bergen works in the Westdale Library in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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