________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 11 . . . . February 4, 2000

cover Looking for X.

Deborah Ellis.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1999.
132 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 0-88899-382-X.

Subject Headings:
Children of single parents-Juvenile fiction.
Autism-Juvenile fiction.
Homeless persons-Juvenile fiction.
Mothers and daughters-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.

** /4

Looking for X is the story of Khyber, an 11-year-old girl living in the Regent Park housing project in Toronto. Her single mother, Tammy, a former stripper, also has autistic twin boys, whom Khyber adores. The family is poor and experiences the indignities of their poverty every day. Khyber is intelligent, but she pushes the limits with her mother and her teacher. She finds solace with her brothers and with a mentally ill homeless woman named X whom she has befriended with peanut butter and corn syrup sandwiches.

Life comes unraveled for Khyber when her mother decides she can no longer handle her growing sons' needs and agrees to put them in a group home in a rural area. Schoolyard taunts result in a brawl with another girl. Injuries Khyber experiences in an encounter with skinheads lead to Khyber's being wrongfully accused of vandalism at school, and she is expelled. To clear her name, she goes out searching through the scary nighttime streets of Toronto for X, but she cannot find her in any alley or park. Khyber is finally returned to her mother, her name is cleared and the family crisis is solved.

Looking for X, which won the runner-up prize for the Groundwood Twentieth Anniversary First Novel for Children Contest, reflects many day-to-day experiences of children growing up in poverty in larger cities today and includes many other contemporary social issues in the plot - homelessness, mental illness, autism, government attitudes towards the poor, adolescent rebellion, social housing, and skinheads among them. However, Ellis gives Khyber such a complicated life that the reader is not sure what the plot is about. While Khyber had to go out and search for X in order to clear her name, and in doing so has some frightening and eye-opening experiences, it seems the plot is really about Khyber's living in a difficult family situation and how the issues surrounding her brothers are resolved. X is a subplot that only becomes key late in the story after the attack by the skinheads. X's character should have been more involved in the thoughts or activities of the family to justify the title. At times, it seems that Khyber forgets about X, and so does the reader. Tammy's sudden disbelief of Khyber's story about the vandalism is inconsistent with her character to that point and seems contrived to provide Khyber with the need to find X.

A keen editor would also have noted an inconsistency: on page 125, Khyber reiterates that her family has no telephone, but, on page 127, she tells the reader that the principal phoned her mother about the vandalism at the school.

Looking for X may be interesting for young adolescent readers who identify with or want to find out about what life is like for a poor teenager in Toronto today.

Recommended with Reservations.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364