CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008
Double-Dare Clare. (The Clare Series, Book Three).
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast, 2008.
182 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Teenage girls-Juvenile fiction.
Dating (social customs)-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Karen Rankin.
Every time I look up [from her Christmas gift-wrapping job in the mall], my eyes drift over to the North Pole next door. Simon, the cashier elf, is in charge of extorting as much money as possible from the mommies for Santa photos. He looks adorable in his green-and-red elf outfit with matching hat and tights and curly-toed shoes that have bells on them. Every now and then he catches my eye and winks at me. I'm a bit envious: at least his job requires some acting, and he gets paid. Unfortunately, you have to be at least fourteen to be an elf. Farther into the winter wonderland, another elf is in charge of arranging how the children will sit on Santa's lap. Even from here I can tell that he hates his job and although he's a victim of unfortunate elf-wear, I can also tell that he's pretty cute. I keep trying to get a better look, but the gift-wrap line is endless and since my gift-wrap shortcomings have recently been exposed I have to stay focused. Christmas music is blaring non-stop from the speakers near us and there's a lot of Ho Ho Hos and bells jingling next door, not to mention the screaming children.
After two hours, my head is spinning and I feel like I may lose my mind. People seem to feel entitled to ask for extras, like choice of paper and colour of ribbon and even the style of the bow! Allison is doing a magnificent job of keeping her cool, although she continues to strong-arm people into more generous "donations." She uses terms like "life-threatening" and "important research." Just when I think I may beat the next person in line to death with their gift, my mom and Pam show up to cover our break. I could kiss them.
Allison and I make our way to the food court and quickly narrow down the options. Allison is a vegetarian and I prefer my food edible so we settle on a soup and salad bar. We both get "homemade" vegetable soup and grab a tiny table. We slurp our soup as shoppers stream around us like schools of tiny fish.
Thirteen-year-old Clare is coming up to the first Christmas that she can recall spending without her life-long imaginary friend, Elsa. Clare hasn't been in touch with Elsa in months, thanks to the advent of her real best friend, Allison. Clare and Allison take a voluntary gift-wrapping job for the few days before Christmas. Clare becomes infatuated with Vince – the cute elf who works nearby and who "hates his job" as evidenced in the above excerpt. Vince works with Simon, another close friend of Clare's. When Vince invites Clare to a party during the holidays, she accepts the invitation despite Simons warning that Vince's idea of fun is likely different from hers. Simon advises Clare, "just be careful." Clare doesn't appreciate Simon – and later, Allison – trying to warn her away from Vince:
I look over at Vince as he crouches down to talk to a little girl in line to see Santa. He brushes a strand of hair out of his eyes. My pulse quickens and my stomach does a little somersault. It seems to me that the more people tell me he's bad for me, the more attracted I am to him. What's that all about?
Meanwhile, Paul, an old friend of Clare's returns from boarding school for the Christmas holidays. Much to Clare's surprise, Paul and Allison take an instant liking to each other. Clare finds that Allison doesn't have as much time for her as she did before meeting Paul. Feeling somewhat lonely, Clare again resorts to the company of her imaginary friend. The day of Vince's party, rather then telling her parents the truth, Clare says she's going to a tobogganing party with Simon, Allison, and Paul. At Vince's party, a Spin the Bottle game leads to Clare and Vince's spending five awkward minutes in the "make-out room." A few minutes later, during the same game, Vince happily spends even more time in the same room with another girl! Disillusioned and humiliated, Clare flees the party. Upon arriving home, she learns that her dog has eaten a box of Christmas chocolates and is at the veterinary hospital, deathly ill. Furthermore, her parents have discovered that she lied to them about where she was going. Clare's dog recovers, Clare gets over her crush on Vince, and by the end of the Christmas holidays, she has made friends with a nice boy from Paul's school. Lessons learned.
Double-Dare Clare is the last in author Yvonne Prinz's (thus far) three book series. Clare continues to be a likeable, precocious, and at times funny, protagonist. For instance, when she invites a boy she's just met to her house for a little party, he says sure and asks what he should bring.
"A Jell-O mould would be nice," I say.
"Okay," he says uncertainly.
"Kidding," I say.
"Oh." He blushes.
I smile at him, my real smile this time, and he smiles back.
As in book two, Not Fair, Clare, Clare's emotional reaction to friends' behaviour comes across as quite immature. Her reliance on an imaginary friend is also increasingly difficult to believe. Allison and Paul, though thinly sketched, are credible characters. However, Prinz has (again) relied on stereotypes for "bad boy" Vince, Clare's artist aunt, her workaholic father, and her "Martha Stewart" mom.
The plot of Double-Dare Clare is fairly predictable, especially given that one of the story lines is similar to that of book two in which Clare warns Allison to look out for a classmate who is far more diabolical than one would suspect upon an initial meeting.
I had been looking forward to seeing more of Clare's six-year-old neighbour, Patience, who was featured in book two; however, Patience played a much smaller part in this story. (Perhaps because she almost overshadowed Clare in Not Fair, Clare.) Still, aside from the make-out room, the most memorable scenes in Double-Dare Clare are those with Patience and Clare's imaginary friend, Elsa. In both cases, these scenes are shown through action and dialogue. They are far more vivid than too many other scenes which are either narrated by Clare or told through her letters to Elsa.
Double-Dare Clare will probably only appeal to the series' biggest fans.
Recommended with reservations.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer.
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