CM . . .
. Volume IX
Number 5 . . . . November 1, 2002
So begins Stephanie Craig's first novel. One of the protagonist's main concerns is her name, Shelagh, which is almost never given its correct pronunciation of "SHAY-LA." Other concerns in her life revolve around her divorced parents whom she rarely sees, her younger brother Jake who has cerebral palsy, and her older sister Jane who often doesn't want her around. It seems that Betty, the family housekeeper, is the only person who gives Shelagh the care and attention she so desperately craves. Fortunately, this situation begins to change as a result of an idea generated by Shelagh's best friend, Tanya. Tanya's parents run a nursing home and live with their family in the back of the building. The two girls dream up a student volunteer club where every member will be paired with a resident of the home and spend a number of hours each week visiting her partner. The girls call the club "Match Made before Heaven" (the lower case "b" is puzzling) and manage to convince their dream teacher, Mr. French, to act as a faculty sponsor. The hitches in this ambitious plan are remarkably few, and the club turns out to be wildly successful. The awakening of romantic feelings for her friend Tom, as well as the warm friendship that Shelagh develops with Dorothy, her 84 year-old partner, change Shelagh's perception of herself. In her final chapter, she writes, "What I've seen this year and what I've experienced has made me a young woman. I am no longer a girl."
This is Me is intended to be a realistic coming-of-age novel. Its small size formula, length (only 155 pages) and appealing cover photo should guarantee popularity with 10 to 13 year-old girls. Unfortunately, the story is disappointingly sentimental. The author has not managed to step out of the "telling" into the "showing" mode of writing. Her characters and dialogue seem to exist primarily to keep the plot progressing smoothly, never managing to rise above the stereotypical. While the jacket describes This is Me as a "...realistic yet heartwarming depiction of one girl's everyday struggles and triumphs," it is highly likely that most young readers will have difficulty finding the characters and events of this predictable tale believable.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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