CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010
Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy).
Alison McGhee. Illustrated by Drazen Kozjan.
New York, NY: Scholastic (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2009.
312 pp., pbk., $8.99.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Myra Junyk.
She had a sense of the days and weeks to come, one Julia Gillian-Bonwit walk home blurring into another, backpacks slumping off their shoulders, feet trudging along, barely speaking. Would the lunch room ever again be the happy place it had once been? Would Bonwit's mother have a cold for the rest of her life? Would Julia Gillian ever sit at Bonwit's dining room table again surrounded with interesting art materials and fresh-baked cookies?
Where was the joy?
It is the end of September, and Julia Gillian and her friends, Bonwit Keller, Cerise Cronin and Lathrop Fallon, are now in grade five at Lake Harriet Elementary School. Things seem to be going well in Julia's life, but not for long! When Mrs. K, the beloved lunch lady, breaks her ankle, she is replaced by Mr. Wintz who strictly enforces the school rules - making lunchtime unbearable. Julia and Bonwit start trumpet lessons; however, Julia soon discovers that she absolutely cannot play the trumpet. She is most upset about the changing relationship with her best friend Bonwit. He does not invite her over to his house anymore because his mother has a "cold." Julia knows he is lying, and so she tells her own lie about making her own lunch. Has she become a liar? "Was this what it felt like to be someone else?" (p. 48)
As Julia's problems grow more complicated, she considers asking her former best friend, Bonwit, her neighbour Enzo, or her parents for help. However, she keeps telling herself, "It's time for me to start solving my own problems…even if I don't really want to." (p. 70) The problems multiply until Julia is forced to take a stand. Will her life ever be joyful again?
The main character, Julia Gillian, is an energetic, somewhat precocious, fifth grade student who thrives on her accomplishments. She keeps a list of these accomplishments underneath her mattress. Up until this point, she was skilled at various arts: chopsticks, knowing, spreading gum, telepathic human-dog communication, papier-mâché making, working the claw machine and juggling. Suddenly, she is having problems. Will she ever be able to add "the Art of the Trumpet" to her list? This new feeling of insecurity disrupts her life which is now is no longer full of joy.
However, Julia does learn a lot in this novel. Throughout the story, she finds messages around the school saying, "Vince Knows All." In a surprise twist at the end of the novel, Julia finds out who Vince really is and learns that everyone has to struggle at some point in their lives. She also learns that keeping secrets from family and friends is not a good way to deal with problems. When she finds out why Bonwit has been lying to her, she starts to think about the needs of others, and not just her own needs, and in so doing, Julia has learned powerful lessons about compassion, forgiveness and friendship.
Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy) will appeal to young readers who are making the transition to chapter books as well as those who struggle with difficult vocabulary. Although the book is rather lengthy at 312 pages, there are wonderful illustrations to break up the text. Drazen Kozjan's pencil drawings add visual interest to the text while revealing a lot of detail to young readers. Readers of this series will definitely be looking forward to Julia Gillian's new adventures in the next novel.
Myra Junyk, a literacy advocate and author, lives in Toronto, ON.
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