________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 25. . . .March 4th, 2011.


True Colours.

Lucy Lemay Cellucci.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2010.
212 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-926607-13-9.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Crystal Sutherland.

**** /4



To the right was a large floor-to-ceiling shelving unit with hundreds of jars and bottles. I walked up and examined them more closely. They were all marked with labels reading SAMPLE. Among the collection were cleansing creams, moisturizers, bronzing lotions, liquid eye shadows, and Shanisa’s personal favourite, glitter gloss lip hydrators. Beside the shelf was a large poster with a closeup of an attractive model all made up. She was posing in front of a futuristic-looking background. The slogan at the bottom read:



“Disgusting,” I hissed from between clenched teeth. “Who do these people think they are?”

I dropped my bag to the floor and rummaged until my hands felt the can of spray paint I had brought.”

Zoe (aka Striking Serpent, String, and Red ) is passionate about animals and sometimes not so fond of people (particularly her brother Dylan, her rival-in-love Abbey, her BBF’s new BBF cheerleader extraordinaire Carly and especially school bully and social studies partner Alex Fisher). In just a couple weeks, Zoe will be starting grade 10, and she can’t wait to see her friends and, in particular, Josh, her crush from last year. Her eagerness to see Josh quickly wanes when he sees her in line at the mall with a cart full of school supplies, pads and haemorrhoid cream (the latter two being her mother’s, but how do you explain that to the hottest guy ever without looking like an even bigger loser?). Thus starts Zoe’s school year where every day vies for the title of ‘worst day in her entire life.’

     Imagine the worst way to start grade 10 and multiply it by infinity; now you have an idea how bad things are through the eyes of Zoe. Everyone has the best teachers, except for her, who’s stuck in miserable Mr. Norton’s class who has no understanding of what it’s like to be a teenage girl in love with a boy who isn’t in her class or grade. Think that’s bad? The antithesis of her dream man is in her class, sits in front of her, and stole her pencil case in the first five minutes of class! Alex is kind enough to lend Zoe her own pens and pencils when she finds herself without because, well, Alex took them from her.

     Zoe quickly finds herself being shunned by her closest friend and turns to the one living thing that Zoe considers a friend, Bojangles, a chimpanzee at the animal shelter Zoe volunteers at on weekends. Bojangles brings comfort to Zoe when nothing else would, which is why Zoe is so upset when he vanishes when she needs him the most – she’s been partnered with her nemesis Alex for a social studies project. It seems like things just can’t get worse...then the police get involved!

     True Colours allows readers to peer into the lives of teens who exist in a variety of positions in the teenage social hierarchy, and the novel exposes some of the almost secret weaknesses afflicting even the most popular and seemingly invincible members of that hierarchy. Once the reader becomes comfortable with who belongs to the ‘winners’ and who is a ‘loser’, Cellucci demonstrates that not everyone is who they appear to be, or really wants to be the person they work hard to portray.

     True Colours is the perfect pick for those readers with a soft spot for animals and those struggling to find where they fit in. As Zoe plays detective in order to work out why animals, including Bojangles, are slowly but steadily vanishing from the animal shelter, she finds Alex can be less of a creep than most people (maybe even including Zoe), think. Her compassion for the shelter animals and the lengths she goes to in order to keep them safe are impressive, even when those around her seem to be doing everything they can to ruin her plans. Zoe’s family often disagrees with what she does for the sake of animals, including her breaking and entering in order to save a family of squirrels from the ‘gruesome death’ her neighbour had planned for them. Zoe’s brother, Dylan, goes out of his way to ruin her life and her plans, and her on-and-off best friend, Shanisa, has become too cool to care anymore.

     Zoe stands by her beliefs and refuses to relent no matter what other people say. Her stubbornness leads her to find a strange ally in her enemy, Alex, and she discovers the cool kids rarely deserve their social status. Zoe, with her relentless devotion to what she believes in, even when standing up for what she thinks is right makes her unpopular, is an excellent role-model for teens struggling to find their place in the social hierarchy of school. She proves some beliefs just can’t, and shouldn’t, be compromised.

     Celleucci takes Zoe’s activism to a new level by exploring animal testing in the cosmetics industry. Her refusal to wear Glitter Girl cosmetics, Shanisa’s new favourite brand, ostracises her from her peers, but her action gains her great respect from the most unlikely people. The description of how animals are used in laboratory experiments for everything from cleaning products to lip gloss is factually accurate and will surely get readers thinking about what they use in their daily lives and how the products are produced.

     True Colours will inspire and foster an interest in activism in any reader, and the novel provides a great starting point for encouraging readers to explore what small things they can do to improve their communities and the world through small, personal acts. The extremes Zoe goes to in her quest to rescue and protect animals provide an excellent opportunity for discussion around whether breaking the law is ever excusable if it’s for a good cause. Readers will easily relate to the characters and their constantly changing relationships and priorities. The characters are sometimes loveable, sometimes hateable, sometimes both at the same time. Many of the characters fit neatly into stereotypes (the outcast, the cheerleader, the high school heartthrob), but Celleucci lets the reader peek inside each of the characters and watch as they transform from the person they think they should be into the person they are naturally.

     Readers will see parts of themselves in each character and, as well as experiencing an enjoyable read, will see how small acts in their daily lives can have a great impact, obvious or not.

Highly Recommended.

Crystal Sutherland, who lives in Halifax, NS, holds Masters Degrees in Literacy Education and Library Science.

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

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