CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 15 . . . . March 28, 2003
Adolescence is painful. Add to that, moving to a new community, saying goodbye to your best friend and your boyfriend, adjusting to a much larger school and fending off boys “who are only interested in one thing,” and you come close to the suffering of 15-year-old Kat. Adored by parents who are busy taking computer training and a firm, no-nonsense, live-in grandmother, Kat searches to find new friends in the typical mob-scene of a large Toronto high school. Weird Erin, whom Kat initially avoids, sets up lunch in the crowded cafeteria with Sarita, an Indian immigrant, and Danielle, an import from Quebec. Danielle’s twin brother, Jean Paul, and his friend, Wing, are later welcomed into the group. Kat, Danielle and Sarita (a compulsive student) click as a group but struggle with Erin’s problems. Erin, who seems to be homeless, tells various stories about her past and present situation and is seen arguing with a well-dressed, older man. Kat’s grandmother, however, sets an example for them all by welcoming and trusting Erin, even though Erin doesn’t at first fit into the “possible friend” category. When Erin ends up in the hospital as a result of a beating inflicted by a man at her rooming house, Kat’s family and new friends take charge and arrange for Erin to live with Marion, a friend of Kat’s grandmother who needs someone to live with her.
New Girl addresses those critical questions for teenagers: who am I, and what kind of people do I want for friends- Every adolescent faces this pair of questions, and so the audience potential for this book is huge. The message is strong here that loving families create strong children who may question and chafe against their parents but ultimately have been cherished enough that they can accept and value others’ differences and find joy in friendship. Kat’s family steadfastly refuses to judge her past, wild friend Suze, the “wickedly flirtatious heartthrob” who lives next door, and least of all, Erin. Although she is sexually attracted to Pavel and Alexei, Kat is stunned by their determination to have sex with her and realizes that “you can know a guy’s no good for you, and want him just the same.” Kat is a realistic 15-year-old Canadian girl. She is surrounded by modern problems and devices - parents returning to school, a friend who is homeless, a huge high school, cell phones, email and multicultural friends. At the same time, she faces the age-old questions all women face: does my family have time for me; can I find and make good friends; how can I handle sexual feelings and men; how can I help those less fortunate than I am? Kat develops from a weepy, self-centered girl to a confident, openhearted young woman. With Gran’s help and Sarita’s influence, she gains the confidence to do well at her schoolwork, too.
The dialogue in New Girl is strikingly up-to-date and accurately portrays life in a large, Canadian high school. It helps to offset the first person voice, which, as usual, personalizes the story and brings the reader closer to the main character. Part of the story is also told in Kat’s email correspondence with Suze. There is a young tone to this book, but it is important to remember that many, if not most, 14 and 15-year-old girls are just on the verge of adulthood, not yet overwhelmed by it, and are still involved in similar problems to Kat’s. New Girl is a relatively short book with a large, clear font. On its cover is a modern Canadian girl with long, curly hair, clutching school binders, with other students in the background. New Girl is a fine book that will attract younger teenager girls who want to see their own immediate future presented in a realistic, compelling way.
Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.
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