________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 21. . . .February 1, 2013


Whatever Doesn't Kill You.

Elizabeth Wennick.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2013.
202 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0083-0 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-4598-0084-7 (pdf),
ISBN 978-1-4598-0085-4 (epub).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Kay Weisman.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I was six days old when Travis Bingham murdered my father. I've made my brother Simon tell me the story a thousand times: how Travis held up my dad's store, how my dad was already giving him the money, how Travis shot him anyway and left him to die on the floor in a pool of blood, the money scattered all over the floor and a ten-dollar bill still clutched in his hand.

      I've seen the newspaper clippings too: Simon has them in a file folder in a box in the basement that he doesn't know I've looked through every chance I've had. There are stories in there from the days and weeks right after it happened, articles about what a great guy my dad was, a real "pillar of the community.". . . Travis had turned eighteen a week before the botched robbery, old enough for an adult trial. His high school picture was plastered all over the papers, him shaggy-haired and surly and looking every bit like a killer should look. I've spent hours looking at that picture, enough time to memorize every contour of his face, every pimple, every fleck in those cold, yellow-green eyes.

By almost anyone's standards, 15-year old Jenna Cooper's life has been difficult. Her father was murdered when she was only a few days old; Mama's subsequent suicide attempt, when Jenna was 10, resulted in brain damage and permanent hospitalization for Mama; older sister Emily abuses drugs and alcohol and often leaves the care of her son to Jenna; and older brother Simon, now 32, tries to hold the family together by working as a building manager for the slum high rise where the siblings live. One day Jenna reads that her father's killer, Travis Bingham, has been released from prison, and she decides to confront him so that he will know that he has ruined her life. During the days leading up to this meeting, she is abandoned by her friends, gets to know a girl who was formerly an enemy, and learns that many of the truths she has always believed about the murder are fabrications devised by her family hoping to spare her pain.

      The mystery of Jenna's family's past and her efforts to unravel the truth make for the heart of this story. As it turns out, Bingham is a rather decent guy, Dad was an alcoholic jerk, and Simon is a conflicted son whose desire to get away from an abusive father led him to plan this robbery-gone-bad. Jenna's responses to these revelations ring true, and her ability to forgive and move forward is satisfying. Other plot points involving Jenna's friends (who suddenly dump her because they think she shouldn't investigate Bingham) and sister Emily (who detoxes, secures a job and a nice boyfriend, and becomes a good mother all in the space of a week) are less convincing, but they don't detract from the story's major focus. Set in Hamilton, ON, Whatever Doesn't Kill You should be popular with those who enjoy Nora McClintock's many novels as well as fans of Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes.


Kay Weisman, a longtime librarian and reviewer, now writes "Information Matters" for School Library Monthly and is a youth librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library in BC.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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