________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 1999

cover Touch of the Clown.

Glen Huser.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books, 1999.
223 pp., pbk., $8.95 (pbk), $18.95 (cl).
ISBN 0-88899-343-9 (pbk), (cl).

Subject Headings:
Children of alcholics-Juvenile fiction.
Sisters-Juvenile fiction.
Clowns-Juvenile fiction.
AIDS (Disease)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Joanne Peters.

** /4


If Livvy and I lived in the I Remember Mama world, we would be coming home to a house with supper simmering on the stove, and Mama sitting by the kitchen table, counting out the money Papa has brought home from work in a little envelope, and the people in the family would be joking and teasing one another and thinking about what it would be most important to spend the money on.

Our kitchen is definitely not an I Remember Mama kitchen. There is no family chattering. Nothing is simmering on the stove. Through the doorway to the living room comes the sound of the television.

Barbara Stanwyck Kobleimer and her sister, Olivia de Havilland (Livvy, for short), live in run-down urban Edmonton with a grandmother and father who are fully immersed in self-pity, self-righteousness, and any available alcoholic beverage. Circumstances are tough: their mother died of cancer, Livvy has behavioral and health problems, food and money are always in short supply, and Barbara has become the "designated adult" and chief care-giver to everyone in this less-than functional household.
      Chasing a ball into the street, Livvy and Barbara collide with a young man on a bike, Cosmo Farber. An actor and occasional waiter, Cosmo teaches summer workshops in clowning, and he invites Barbara to enroll. Barbara forges her father's name on the application form and sneaks out of the house to attend. The workshops become the one bright light in her life. Sadly, the light sputters out all too quickly. Readers learn that Cosmo has AIDS, Barbara and Livvy find themselves in foster care, and, unlike the old movies watched incessantly by the girls' dad and grandmother, there are no happy endings in this book. Realism has its place in young adult literature, but in Touch of the Clown, too much goes wrong and, at times, the story teeters on the edge of over-the-top sentimentality.
      Huser's writing is at its strongest when describing the daily grind of life for Barbara and her sister; less successful is the portrayal of Cosmo as nearly-flawless character and the tear-jerker funeral scene at the end of the story. Finally, although the intended audience is age 12 and up, the cover art might be too juvenile to appeal to readers of that age.

Recommended With Reservations.

Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364