CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012
40 Things I Want to Tell You.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2012.
287 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.
Review by Joan Marshall.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof
TOP TIP 13: YOU DON'T ALWAYS KNOW YOURSELF AS WELL AS YOU THINK YOU DO
I finished up with my homework and lay on my bed. I tried to read but I couldn't concentrate on the T.S. Eliot poem assigned to us. I lay awake watching the moonlight falling like feathers into my room, and eventually I drifted into a drowsy, uncomfortable sleep. Images of Pete pulling me to the ground flashed through complicated dreams of Griffin yelling at me, his mother pressed against a window, screaming.
Suddenly, I knew.
I woke up in a cold sweat.
I couldn't believe I hadn't realized.
With everything going on, I hadn't noticed.
It was no excuse.
I'd been so stupid.
But it couldn't be true, it couldn't have happened to me, not to me.
Not. To. Me.
TOP TIP 14: THE TRUTH COMES OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.
Londoner 17-year-old Amy Finch (aka Bird) has her life under control. She studies hard, has a boyfriend and many friends, and plans to attend Oxford University after she finishes her high school courses. She has even secretly begun an online advice site for teens that seems to be taking off. The only nagging uneasy problem is that she doesn't really want to have sex with her boyfriend Griffin although they've been planning to do so for some time. And when handsome bad boy Pete joins her class, she knows why. Suddenly in lust overdrive, Bird succumbs to Pete's advances and has sex with him in the park. Horrified by her betrayal of Griffin and her own values, she realizes that Griffin is merely a good friend but can't quite bring herself to break up with him. Then her mother leaves her dreamy father, and Bird finds herself pregnant with Pete's child. In the face of rejection, bullying, losing her best friend and anger at her own mother, Bird struggles on, finishing her school year and giving birth to a baby boy whom she decides to keep. In the end, she reconciles with her parents, Pete, Griffin and her friend Cleo.
Bird is a strong character – an obsessively organized and driven list maker who relies on her loyal, lively friend Cleo and her adoring boyfriend Griffin for support. She prides herself on her thoughtful, encouraging advice to other teens who turn to her online site for help with their problems. She comes to realize that sometimes, no matter how much you think you have life under control, it throws you difficult, unpredictable curve balls that you just have to suffer through. A typical self-centred teen, Bird is gobsmacked by her parents' separation. Neither does she insist that Griffin get immediate help for his mother who is deteriorating into dementia. The horror of being pregnant finds Bird stuttering with fear, terrified and uncertain of what she should do. She shakes with indecision. She plans an abortion but can't go through with it, and, in the end, she keeps her son in spite of the difficulties she knows will lie ahead.
Secondary characters are quite effective. Bird's long suffering mother, loving but unrealistic father whose businesses all fail, Griffin the patient protective son, and Cleo the cheery friend all interest the reader and move the plot along. Only the enigmatic Pete, with the mysterious back story, remains a caricature until the very end when he sees his son.
Bird's website ties the whole story together as she dispenses advice and top tips, such as "Secrets breed lies" and "Be honest with your best friend," even as she herself has trouble taking her own advice. These teens live in the present day, texting each other from across the room. The dialogue is lively, often funny and totally up to date, moving the action along well and revealing character.
The intended readership will sympathize with Bird whose actions and life will provoke much discussion and empathy.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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