CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 3. . . .September 17, 2010
Melissa is a grade 10 student dealing with myriad of problems. Some are not her fault. Her dad left when she was an infant, and so she lives with her mom. It’s hard to tell who the adult is in that relationship. Her little brother Bradley died when he was a child. Her latest boyfriend, 28-year-old Michael, has not only broken up with her but has left town without a trace. Other problems are caused by Melissa, herself. She is very sexually active, turns to alcohol and drugs frequently, has had run-ins with the police and is frequently suspended from school for a variety of misdemeanors.
Lesley Anne Cowan’s main character is a turbulent melange of ideas, emotions and reactions, and readers may sometimes feel there is little hope for her. And yet Melissa is strangely endearing. She loves her job at the veterinary clinic and has a soft spot for the animals she helps there. She truly loved Michael and is bewildered and heartbroken when he doesn’t stay with her. Despite her apparently uncaring manner and her impatience with her mother, in the end it is Melissa who brings at least some stability to the family. All of this is done with Melissa’s cheeky, determined, “in your face” approach to life, tinged with a truly wicked sense of humour.
Like Cowan’s first novel, As She Grows, this book is raw and difficult in places. Sexuality, drugs, drunkenness and suicide are met head on, not glossed over. Some readers may be shocked by Melissa and her actions while others will appreciate the bare bones look at a young woman caught in a seemingly hopeless situation. Cowan waves no magic wand at the end of the book, and Melissa still has a number of problems confronting her. However both Melissa and the reader feel there is hope and a way up and out of her current situation.
Young adult readers, especially girls, will relate to this novel and Melissa’s struggles. The book has a place in school libraries and also would provoke interesting discussions in classrooms or in book clubs. Although the intended audience is young adults, there is no doubt that parents, teachers and any other adults dealing with youth would benefit from this gripping, objective and yet sympathetic look at twenty-first century teen life and the perils and pressures within it.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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