CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 17 . . . . April 26, 2002
When 11-year-old Jillian Nelson learns about the summer respite program for Belarusian children, she immediately begins hounding her parents to take in a girl her age. On the surface it seems like a compassionate gesture, but Jillian's motives aren't quite that admirable. Transplanted from Ottawa to Vancouver in the middle of the school year, Jillian finds herself an outcast in her new class. None of the girls make any effort to include her in their activities, and by the end of the school year, Jillian is still without a friend. Faced with the prospect of a long, lonely summer, she perceives hosting a Belarusian girl as the solution to her problem.
However, things don't turn out as Jillian imagines they will. Far from the compliant playmate she anticipates, Tanya turns out to be every bit as fiery and strong-willed as Jillian herself, and it isn't long before the whole Nelson household is turned upside down by the girls' fights and temper tantrums. But with the help of family, friends, and the exchange program's liaison, the situation gradually improves, so that by the end of the visit Jillian and Tanya have come to care a great deal for each other. Jillian's summer is filled with lessons about culture, language, and people in general, but perhaps the most important lesson she learns is that in order to acquire a friend, she must first be one.
Though the story's plotline is predictable and the ending leaves the reader believing everyone will live happily ever after, the novel has several important messages to impart. Anyone who has ever had dealings with adolescent girls will immediately recognize Jillian and Tanya as authentic characters. They aren't always very nice, but they are definitely real, and they are perfect vehicles for proving that human understanding isn't always easy to come by.
Beryl Young's novel examines the Chernobyl disaster and its lingering aftermath, something most Canadian children probably know very little about. But after reading Wishing Star Summer, it is unlikely they will ever forget it.
Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.