________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls.

Deb Loughead & Jocelyn Shipley, eds. Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2008.
186 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-894549-76-9.

Subject Headings:
Short stories, Canadian (English).
Canadian fiction (English)-Women authors. Canadian fiction (English)-21st century. Girls-Fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***˝ /4


I scowl at my reflection. Curves. A polite word for being overweight and having ridiculously large breasts that everyone has stared at since grade 6. I sigh and study my makeup. My lipstick is kiss proof, the label says. I reapply it, though kiss proof is hardly something I need worry about. I picture Heather McAllister's full lips and slow smile, and slam the makeup drawer closed.

No amount of makeup is going to turn me into Heather McAllister.

Heather has dead-straight hair, so blonde it is almost white: that colour you almost never see on anyone over three years old. She has thick bangs that cover her eyebrows. She is skinny and flat-chested and narrow-hipped, almost like a boy. She always wears black and she hangs out with older guys who ride motorbikes and play guitar.

Heather's nothing like the girls I eat lunch with at school. She's not the math club type. She's not one of the super-popular crowd either, but that's only because she doesn't care what other people think.

I wish I didn't. (From “About My Curves,” by Robin Stevenson.)

We all want to look our best and be accepted and loved by our peer group. But what is "our best?” And how can we distance ourselves from our well-meaning mothers long enough to figure out where we fit and what we're aiming for? As today's teenage girls sink into this soupy mess, the stories from Cleavage will buoy them up and remind them that they, too, will survive.

     This eclectic collection of short stories, edited by Deb Loughead and Jocelyn Shipley, both award-winning writers for young people themselves, is tied together by theme: girls struggling with body image and their relationships with their mothers. The female authors of these 15 stories have nailed to the wall the self-absorption of teenage girls who think and act as if their problems are the centre of the entire world.

    And surely their mothers are the most embarrassing people ever, drawing unwelcome attention to their long-suffering daughters. These girls are determined to find their own way despite their mothers' eccentricities and downright idiocy.

    The astute older teen reader may recognize the real love in which these mothers envelope their daughters. Younger readers will groan in recognition as mothers blithely display their lesbian lover's vagina-inspired art, loudly announce to an entire store that their daughter is struggling to find a bra to fit her well-developed breasts, or unabashedly get pregnant, making it clear that someone's having sex.

    However, most of these stories are aimed at mid-teens who are chafing against maternal restraints and expectations and who are just beginning to realize that their mothers' choices do not necessarily have to be their choices.

    Although a couple of the stories fall short at the end through too much telling, too much tidying up or too quick a change of heart, most of the stories are very strong, with sympathetic girl protagonists, colourful purposeful mothers, realistic family situations and the gleaming knife of raw emotion. One story, “Faceless on the Farm,” is laugh-out-loud funny, while the best story, “The Cake Princess,” will reduce the toughest girl to tears. Both “About My Curves” and “Profanity” touch on mothers' mortality. The overwhelming influence of the media on the body image of girls and women is an underlying theme that will generate much discussion. At least 10 of these stories could be used successfully in a junior high unit on body image.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller whose classmates always seemed to be prettier. And none of them had freckles.

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

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