________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 17 . . . . April 26, 2002

cover Me in the Middle.

Ana Maria Machado.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 2002.
110 pp., pbk., & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88899-467-2 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-463-X (cl.).

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

** /4


As I've said, these talks with Bisa Bea can be quite amusing. But sometimes she can drive anyone crazy and sometimes I wish I could escape. But how can I escape from someone who lives deep inside me? Especially from someone who is invisible to the rest of the world.

What bothers me most about Bisa Bea is the way she is always giving me advice, as if she knew everything just because she lived so long - a long time without even TV, though. She's always saying things like, "Sweetie, I' m telling you this for your own good. You'll be big one day and realize I was right..."

Or else she says, "Listen to what I'm telling you, learn from my experience...."

"If I don't experience it on my own, how will I ever learn?" I sometimes answer.

I decided to put cotton in my ears when she was going on and on about experience....

Isabel is fascinated with an old photo of her great grandmother, Bisa Bea. The more time she spends with the picture, the more it seems Bisa Bea is actually talking to her. Along with the stories of olden days comes advice on Isabel's behaviour, her clothes and friends. Some of the advice is unwelcome, especially when another voice - this one from Isabel's future - suggests she should make her own choices as she becomes her own person.

     This character-driven story may appeal to girls who are only-children, like Isabel, with imaginary friends to substitute for siblings, or who might be curious to discover more about the way their grandparents lived. Isabel's relationship with the invisible Bisa Bea unfolds through sometimes plodding monologue and dialogue, written in a rather old-fashioned style. (The book is a translation from Brazilian Portugese.) Gradually Isabel comes to the realization that things and people change over time and that our past will impact on our future, "Looking back at the past and walking toward the future, I stumble every once in a while, as I invent new styles."

     The pace is slow, suspense minimal, the conflict mainly internal. The momentum tends to bog down in tedious detail at times, eg. three pages of discussion about cloth handkerchiefs. It's a mildly pleasant story, but perhaps a bit slow for today's North American child.

Recommended with reservations.

Living in BC, Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published writer of children's fiction and nonfiction.

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