CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 17. . . .January 3, 2014
Readers first became acquainted with the Newfoundland coastal towns of Ratchet and Fiddlers Cove in The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and then met the distasteful Sigrid Sugden in The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy. In both of those books, Jill MacLean constructed believable, three-dimensional characters with depth and complexity in their realistic mix of strengths and flaws. In The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden, MacLean continues her construction of complicated, multi-faceted characters. Sigrid Sugden is a Shrike—one of a group of three girls who bully their way through life. Yet, 12-year-old Sigrid realises that her companions, Tate Cody and Mel Corkum, are leading her in directions she does not want to go. When their bullying almost costs Prinny Murphy’s life, Sigrid decides to try to change her ways.
Turning her back on Tate and Mel proves a dangerous move for Sigrid, and it becomes even more dangerous as she begins to stand up to them in open defiance. Since Sigrid has been a bully for the past two years, others are not about to embrace Sigrid, and she finds she is not only alone but incredibly lonely. Her mother, Lissie, is rarely at home. Her brother, Lorne, is busy with his girlfriend. Her stepfather, Seal, is mysteriously distracted and spending time elsewhere. With no family and no friends, Sigrid feels all alone.
Although The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden is the third book featuring the same characters and same Fiddlers Cove setting, as with the other books, this one stands alone and readers need not have read its predecessors. What is likely, however, is that if one reads this book without having read the earlier books, upon completing The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden, the reader will immediately turn to The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy. These are all powerful, moving stories from the pen of one of Canada’s best writers.
The book is told in the first person voice of Sigrid Sugden. The reader proceeds with an unusual sense of disequilibrium. The protagonist, after all, has been a horrible person. The character who provides the most support to Sigrid, 14-year-old Hud Quinn, is, himself, a nasty, brutal bully. This is the mastery of MacLean. Her characters are complex and flawed, yet they possess redeeming admirable qualities too. MacLean places readers inside a whirlpool and shakes everything up. She helps readers to understand bullies and bullying. I found myself hoping for things to work out nice and tidy; for good to be rewarded and evil to be punished. That is too easy—too unrealistic—for MacLean. Sigrid was left to bumble her way from one botched attempt to do the right thing to another.
MacLean is a magnificent author. Her pacing is faultless. Her short chapters are filled with drama. She pushes the story ahead, yet provides enough information about the characters so that readers care deeply what might happen to them. MacLean understands the minds of adolescents and the complexities of life for pre-teens and teenagers. The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden is a wonderful book.
Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, MB, where he specialises in literature for children.
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