________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 38 . . . . June 4, 2010

cover

Fishtailing.

Wendy Phillips.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2010.
196 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-55050-411-8.

Subject Headings:
Teenagers-Poetry.
Violence in adolescence-Poetry.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

excerpt:

Kyle
In the mirror
I make five test runs.
Then I ask her
to help.

You do homework?
she says, a laugh
shakes her shoulders
like a choked engine.

Her dark eyes
on high beam.
Write a poem
bout your motorcycle.
Farr would like that
she says.

I lean against the lockers
wheels spinning.

 

Fishtailing has just four central characters, and by the end of the novel readers feel they know each character and his or her secrets very well. Natalie is the new girl in school. She has a dysfunctional family and disturbed background and feels free to manipulate and use people around her since this has been her own reality. Three classmates – Tricia, Kyle and Miguel – become her victims, and their lives will never be the same. The story is on a crash course right from the opening page; events and emotions escalate to a disastrous ending when the entire world fishtails out of control.

     Wendy Phillips encapsulates a great deal in this first novel: themes of violence, bullying, alcoholism, rebellion and blended families to name just a few. What sets Fishtailing apart from other teen fiction is that Phillips chooses to tell her tale in free verse rather than prose, with the exception of the odd memo between an English teacher and a guidance counsellor scattered throughout the book. Within the poetic assignments of their English class, readers have a glimpse of the intimate thoughts of each character, and, as the novel moves along, an entire story unfolds. The beauty of the free verse style is that readers are never overwhelmed with narrative description or ongoing dialogue. A great deal is said; even more is intimated. Readers have the freedom to fill in the blanks and round out the story as they see fit. There is no doubt that in this case, less is more.

     Phillips has made use of a different technique in this young adult novel. It works beautifully and gives a refreshing new perspective about the cruel games sometimes played in high schools and the resulting teenage angst, despair and emotional trauma. Fishtailing is a novel worth having in any collection – for the poignant characterization, for the gripping plot, for the ingenuity of the writing.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French who currently resides in Ottawa, ON.

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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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