CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008
Not Fair, Clare. (The Clare Series, Book Two).
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast, 2008.
187 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Teenage girls-Juvenile fiction.
Imaginary companions-Juvenile fiction.
Bes friends-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Karen Rankin.
** ½ /4
After school I meet Allison back at the bike stands. She doesn't look the least bit sheepish; in fact, she looks really happy to see me. "So, how's your homeroom?" I ask.
"Great!" she says. "Everyone's been so nice to me. I know I'm the new kid and all, but it's been a breeze so far."
"Super!" I say in the same extra-cheerful voice she's using. I bend over and unlock our bikes.
"What's your homeroom like?" she asks.
"Prisonlike," I say, pulling my bike out of the stand and hoisting my backpack onto my shoulders.
"Well, it's only the first day. Don't you think you should give it a little time?" Allison gets on her bike and we start pedalling away from the schoolyard side by side.
"Nope. I pretty much know I hate it."
"Hey, Chuckles," she says. "Save some laughs for the ride home, okay?"
I ignore that. "What would you know about it, anyway?" I say. "You re the 'New Girl'." I let go of my handlebars to make quotation signs with my fingers.
"Am I supposed to apologize for that or something?" she says, looking indignant.
"No, I just think you should be careful. The sharks are circling, if you know what I mean."
"Could you speak English, please? What is that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. But Ginny Germain can be a little two-faced. Be careful what you tell her."
"Geez, Clare, give me some credit. I've got a decent set of Spidey-Senses, too, you know. Besides, she doesn't seem so awful to me. You shouldn't worry so much."
But I am worried. Allison and Ginny will be together five days a week for the whole school year. Same homeroom. Lockers next to each other. I'm afraid to ask if their desks are close. Location is everything in junior-high society. Harping on about Ginny right now will make me look petty and insecure, though, so I change the subject. "Hey, have you met the new drama teacher?"
Thirteen-year-old Clare has made friends with Allison over the summer. Allison seems to have replaced Clare's life-long imaginary companion, Elsa. However, on the first day of grade eight, Clare's archenemy, Ginny Germain, befriends Allison. Clare warns Allison to watch out for Ginny.
When Allison ignores this advice and goes to a party that Ginny has invited her to, Clare is hurt. She decides to keep her distance and to wait and see how things develop. Clare's imaginary friend, Elsa, starts keeping Clare company again. In the meantime, Clare prepares to audition for the role of Lady Macbeth in her school's production of Macbeth. She also befriends Patience, a hyperactive six-year-old girl whose family has just moved in across the street. When it becomes apparent that a boy Ginny Germain likes is interested in Allison, Ginny tries to frame Allison for the theft of the boy's mother's necklace. Clare happens to spy Ginny planting the missing necklace in Allison's knapsack and then making an anonymous call to the school principal, one which implicates Allison. Clare saves Allison from trouble when she tells the principal who made the mysterious phone call and who is really responsible for stealing the necklace. By the time Clare wins the role of Lady Macbeth, she and Allison are again close friends. Macbeth is played by Simon, a boy in grade nine. Simon already has a 'perfect' girlfriend. Clare and Simon develop a close, platonic relationship, but Clare cannot help thinking that Simon would be the perfect boy for her first "real" kiss. When Clare's young neighbour, Patience, is hit by a car while dashing across the street for Thanksgiving dinner at Clare's house, Clare is devastated. She misses a number of rehearsals because she does not want to leave Patience's hospital bedside. When Simon visits Clare in the hospital to tell her that she is missed, he obliges her with one 'perfect' kiss. The story ends with Patience's coming home from hospital, Ginny Germain being further disgraced as a result of her own actions, and the production of Macbeth proves to be a great success.
Clare – an only child – is likeable, occasionally funny, perceptive, and precocious. However, many of her judgements and observations sound like those of someone either much older or from an earlier era, as per the following examples:
[My] dad actually made it home in time to eat with us, which happens about as often as the vernal equinox.
We [Clare and Allison] decide to see Annie Hall at the Princess Theatre even though we've both seen it a few times.
[The] only "green" my dad appreciates is money. He's a lawyer in the worst possible way. My mom used to be a lawyer, too, but she quit practicing when I was twelve because she noticed I was running wild. That's when she decided she wanted to be a "movie of the week" mom, but she's cooled her jets on all that, thank God. Now she's sort of a scary Martha Stewart.
Aunt Rusty says, ..."Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?" I ask.
"That it was a purely physical attraction and it would be over in three months."
"I didn't know that. I only started wearing a bra two months ago. I really don't know much about that stuff."...
"Maybe I'll give him that painting of mine that he likes so much."
"What are you going to say? Here's a lovely parting gift? It's a relationship, not a game show."
At times, it is difficult to reconcile this aspect of her personality with her apparent emotional immaturity. This may be typical of bright, 13-year-olds; however, the contrasts are particularly baffling since the motivation for Clare's behaviour is not always clear. It is also hard to believe that someone old enough to (for instance) excel in the role of Lady Macbeth still needs an imaginary friend.
Scenes with the hyperactive little girl, Patience, are vivid and fun. Similarly, Clare's discussions with her "inappropriate" Aunt Rusty are often amusing. However, author Yvonne Prinz relies on stereotypes when drawing almost all of the secondary and peripheral characters, including Clare's parents, perfect Simon, villain Ginny Germain, and Clare's aunt.
Although at times the plot feels contrived, Not Fair, Clare, the second book in Prinz's series, moves along at a good pace, with Patience coming dangerously close to stealing the show.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer.
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