CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 14 . . . . March 16, 2001
My name is Maggie Alexander and I am sixteen years old. I have a father who is ordinary. And a mother who is just as ordinary. I have one brother left and he's a little weird. My other brother was killed in an accident, one year ago today.Originally published in 1991 as Un terrible secret (la courte chelle), this slim book, told in the first person, was a Governor General's Literary Award finalist (French language). Obviously the secret which Montrealer Maggie holds is the core of the work, and, as the "Prologue" excerpt above foreshadows, the secret relates to the death which occurred a year before. Bit by bit, Maggie provides readers with "clues" about Simon, her dead brother: younger than Maggie, he cut out pictures from magazines, all of which Maggie says she kept, "All but the last one. That last clipping...I just couldn't keep. I had to get rid of it." She also shares with readers her parents' reaction to Simon's death, especially her mother's response: "Hearing my mother say over and over again that they had done everything that they could. That it was nobody's fault. That having a child who is not like other children is the worst thing that could happen to parents." Though some readers may successfully guess at what made Simon different, Maggie eventually reveals that Simon had Down's Syndrome. Throughout the novel, another continuing mystery is the strained relationship between Maggie and fellow student Lauren Carver who is physically afraid of Maggie. The two parts of the book come together in the book's penultimate chapter when Maggie reveals the secret she has kept since the night of her brother's death.
The somewhat thin plot line is, to a limited degree, filled out by Maggie's relationships with her parentally-indulged and drug-involved older brother, Luke, and with her oddball best friend, Chloe, who, while bouncing between her divorced parents' homes, discovers that she has herpes. Maggie also finds herself romantically involved with Ben Mitchell, neighbor and the new guy in school. An acceptable read, but not necessarily a first purchase (though its short length may appeal to reluctant female readers).
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in YA literature in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
To comment on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.