________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 14 . . . . March 16, 2001

cover The Secret Under My Skin.

Janet McNaughton.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2000.
237 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 0-00-648522-7.

Subject Headings:
Identity (Psychology)-Juvenile fiction.
Technology-Social aspects-Juvenile fiction.
Revolutionaries-Juvenile fiction.
Street children-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7 - 11 / Ages 12 - 16.

Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4


I don't tell my stories. Not ever. If asked, I say I don't remember. But that's not true. I keep my memories to myself because they aren't like anyone else's. Not comforting. Not beautiful. Others cling to the past like shreds of an old blanket. My memories are more like shards of glass. I drift off to sleep tonight hoping I can take the others' memories with me to make my dreams. Hoping I will not fall into the same loop of haunting shadows that cannot be understood. But tonight is no different from any other. Once again, I'm in the strange city. The air is hot and breathless. We are at the edge of a green field enclosed by fine buildings - some made of stone. One has a rounded, green roof. I look without straining because my head is resting on Someone's arm....

Those are my memories. If I told them who would believe me? What do they mean? I only know that I was once held by Someone. Who? . . . If I had a memory of Someone - a mother or a father, maybe I would be someone, too. But I am nothing. Just a voice inside my head. I only know that Someone once held me safe, even if I got lost after. Even if I was left behind. And Someone gave me my Object, the only thing I've managed to keep with me all this time. Whatever it is.

The year is 2368, and the world has been poisoned by some type of environmental disaster, a "technocaust." Living in this world is Blay Raytee, former 13-year-old street kid and now the ward of a government workcamp, doomed to a life of scavenging in a landfill. Fragments of memory, unanswered questions, and feelings of alienation trouble her. But, her ability to read saves her, and she is chosen to become the tutor of Marrella, a privileged young woman from a community outside the ravaged cities. Blay and Marrella are brought together in the house of Erica and William Morgan, and it soon becomes clear that, although Marrella was chosen because of her sensitivities to environmental toxins, it is Blay who can "read" the natural world's messages. And in Erica and William's home, Blay starts to piece together the fragments of her memory, finds the answers to her questions about herself and her parentage, and learns about the secret under her skin.

      The Secret Under My Skin is strongest when it focuses on Blay and her attempt to piece together her past; she learns that she is really sixteen, not thirteen, and that her name is actually Blake Raintree. The relationship between her and Marrella is, predictably, fraught with tension, while Erica and William become the parents Blake has longed for and needed. However, this is not your typical "adolescent unlocks the secrets of her identity" story; ideological warfare, concerns about an environment ravaged by unchecked pollution caused by thoughtless application of technology, and some grim glimpses into the future provide another dimension to the novel, and one that would be enjoyed by students with those concerns. Readers who are not fond of futuristic fantasy might not enjoy The Secret Under My Skin, and the cover art will probably deter older readers from picking up the book. But those willing to persevere with the story will find out the truth about Blake's past and see where her future might take her.


Joanne Peters is a 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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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364