CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 13 . . . . March 3, 2000
I kneeled down in front of the tank, and Beauty sat down beside me. Marnie polished off the chocolate dip as she gazed at the fish tank. There were white rocks lining the bottom and four or five plants with long green leaf fingers waving in the water. A treasure chest opened and closed and a grinning skeleton bobbed out from inside it. I couldn't tell Freddy, Eddy and Beddy apart. Each was your basic goldfish orange, about two thumbs wide with a fantail that doubled its length. They took turns gliding to the top of the water and making large O's with their mouths as they ate the fish food. Beauty sat up tall, eyeing them with her tongue hanging out and her ears partway up, a hopeful look on her face as though she was expecting a Freddy, Eddy and Beddy snack.Twelve-year-old Elizabeth feels an instant kinship with the ugly-looking black Lab puppy that her family has volunteered to raise for Canine Vision Canada. Over the course of the year in which she has the responsibility of training the dog, ironically named Beauty, Elizabeth has to come to terms with a number of significant changes in her life. Her father loses his job and becomes a stay-at-home dad while her mom accepts a teaching job in order to pay the bills. Elizabeth's older sister, Debra, leaves home after a heated argument with her parents and moves in with her boyfriend, Rolf. But the most difficult of changes for Elizabeth is accepting the fact that her lifelong friend, Scott, with whom she has shared a brother-sister type of relationship, suddenly has eyes for her best girlfriend, Alicia. When Scott and Alicia start dating, Elizabeth feels terribly betrayed and hurt, her relationship with each of them damaged. Eventually, Scott leaves Alicia for Elizabeth, and, for awhile, all is right in Elizabeth's world. The situation on the homefront improves as well - her dad finds a job, Debra reaches an understanding with her parents, and Elizabeth stops seeing Rolf as the "enemy" who stole her sister. The common thread running through the novel is Elizabeth's relationship with Beauty. Though she vowed that she would never love her, Elizabeth grows fonder of Beauty with each passing day, and it is with great reluctance that she returns the dog to the vision center when the year is up.
Young adolescent girls will readily identify with Elizabeth who is caught in that awkward age between being young enough to go trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en and old enough to have a boyfriend. McNicoll writes with honesty, warmth and humour, using teens' language. Told in the first person, from Elizabeth's perspective, the story deals with the usual problems of growing up and accepting change and loss as necessary parts of life. Readers will empathize with the main character during her year-long commitment to bringing up Beauty. The trials and tribulations of babysitting, getting along with parents and the heady feeling of first love are all skillfully interwoven topics with which young teens can identify. Readers will find themselves, at times, nodding in agreement, laughing out loud, or even getting a little misty-eyed as McNicoll so realistically describes her characters and their emotions. Growing up is not always easy, but McNicoll's fun, yet moving, novel makes it a little easier.
A thoroughly enjoyable read, Bringing Up Beauty won the Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award and Ontario's Silver Birch Award.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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