Monday, May 15, 2006

Me and the Blonds by Teresa Toten

To the detriment of this blog, procrastination in spring is about the garden rather than about books. The light lasts long into the evening, and while I may start out with a book and a cup of tea in a nice comfy chair, it isn't long before moving the sprinker turns into dividing this and pruning that...

Still, I did manage to read at least one fabulous kid’s book recently. Me and the Blondes by Teresa Toten, published by Puffin Canada. It is a must read for YA fans. It’s attractive hot pink cover signals 'chick lit', but it is oh so much more.

Sophie, who is wildly funny in a self-deprecating sort of way, is about to change schools yet again. Tired of rejection and changing schools to run from it, she comes up with a double barrel strategy to make this school work. First--she will rewrite her past by killing off her alcoholic poet father, currently doing time for murder. Second-- she will ingratiate herself with ‘the blonds’, the cliques that have made her life hell at past schools. To start, her and her charming Eastern European mother, Magda concoct a likely death for Dad so that Sophie can start fresh.

On her first day at the new school, four blondes turn up in Sophie’s homeroom. She immediately knows that she has “hit the motherlode.” Sophie reels them with a skill that speaks of desperation that only high school can bring out. Interestingly, basketball ends up being the key to the inner sanctum of the blond clique. Meanwhile, an overly sympathetic teacher, ensures that attention is drawn to Sophie's lie. The trouble is, she and her mother haven't really agreed on the details of the death, keeping the reader as on edge as Sophie. A game of Truth or Dare ups the ante.

At home, Sophie can’t pretend. Her father’s regular phone calls from prison send her mother on an emotional roller coaster that has her mother either weeping or cleaning obsessively. Either the sobbing or the smell of bleach pervades their tiny apartment, and Sophie is never sure just which it will be. A job at diner/soda fountain is a partial escape, and the owner’s family connection ensures that the secret of Sophie’s father is safe. Her growing friendship with Madison is risky though, especially when they invite her and her mother for dinner. Will they be able to keep their lies straight?

Sophie is one of those characters that will stay with you. Each time she throws a letter to her father in the trash, you feel like retrieving it smoothing it, and sending it off to him. When The Aunties descend on Sophie with food, and laughter, and the suggestion of a ‘practice boyfriend,’ you can’t help but thinking that they are as over-the-top wonderful as they are exasperating, just as Sophie does. When Sophie takes the bus to Kingston to see her father, and leaves again without even getting to the penitentiary, your heart aches for her. When she is found out in the biggest lie of all, you want to flee along with her.

What could have been a piece of nostalgia is a funny, poignant, and achingly real window into the high school world. The blonds could easily be cliché, but in Toten’s experienced hands each comes alive with individual personalities as Sophie gets to know them. Each has their own personality. And like Sophie, each has her own problems. I especially enjoyed the way that Toten handled the relationship between the girls, and the fact that the love interest doesn’t railroad the story. Sophie may have started out looking for ‘the blonds’, but what she finds in the end is real friendship. And to top it all off, I have heard rumours of more Sophie adventures to come. I hope so, and so will you.

Reviewed from advanced reader's copy. Look for it soon at your local bookstore.

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