CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.
Liars and Fools.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2010.
246 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Vasso Tassiopoulos.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The psychic fair was in Sidney, a half-hour drive. Mom and I used to sail there often. There was this long sandy bar—Sidney Spit—where we’d drop the anchor, eat some lunch and stroll on the beach. Sometimes, if a perfect sailing morning happened to dawn on a weekday, Mom would let me miss school to sail with her. Days like this one don’t come all the time. Carpe diem and all that good stuff. Besides, you’ll learn more on a boat than they can ever teach you in a classroom.
I wondered if I would always miss her like this—if the ache in my chest would be there forever. And then I realized that I didn’t hurt like I did back in those first months after she disappeared, back when every breath felt like inhaling broken glass. I didn’t think about her as much as I used to.
And somehow that made me feel worse instead of better.
Liars and Fools begins with 13-year-old Fiona who is left bothered and shaken after a chance encounter with a psychic who relays images from a fatal boat crash that killed her mother a year ago. Fiona is further dismayed after this encounter as she comes to grapple with the fact that her father begins dating a woman named Kathy, who turns out to be the very same psychic. Doubt, hurt and anger plague Fiona throughout the novel as she and her best friend, Abby, by means of a science project, set out to prove that psychics like Kathy don’t exist.
The major themes of loss, mourning, and grief in Stevenson’s work are fully realized and reflected in the anxiety Fiona has about the way people around her can move on with their lives after her mother’s death. Fiona’s longing to have things back to the way they were when her mother was alive are poignantly expressed in her secret visits to see Eiza J, the boat she and her mother used to sail together. Details about their sailing excursions also contribute to the authentic Victoria, BC setting Stevenson depicts in her novel. Instances where Fiona finds herself at the marina bring about evocative memories which reflect the closeness she once shared with her mother.
The theme of friendship is also strongly reflected in the bond Fiona shares with her best friend, Abby. Together, they question whether or not Kathy’s predictions, visions, and supposed ability to communicate with Fiona’s mother are real or guess work. The significance of the novel’s title reflects Fiona's adamant belief that anyone who claims to have psychic abilities is a liar and anyone who believes in psychic phenomena is just fooling themselves. By the end of the story, Fiona realizes that those who hold a belief in psychic phenomena use their belief as a coping mechanism. Believing in contact with people who have passed on provides comfort for people who have lost loved ones like Kathy also has.
Liars and Fools is an expressive story about a young girl's trying to come to terms with the world around her without her mother by her side. Fiona’s hesitation in believing in Kathy’s ability to communicate with her dead mother and tell the future leads to revelations about what it means to let go and live life again without a loved one. By its conclusion, Stevenson’s novel brings about complex realizations of how both children and adults come to cope with the loss.
Vasso Tassiopoulos is currently completing a Master of Arts degree in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia and currently holds the position of recording secretary for The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Canada.
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