Vancouver Sun Review - Fishtailing

Vancouver Sun
Reviewed by: Tracy Sherlock

Fishtailing is a one-of-a-kind book for teens that tells the story of four teenagers through poetry. They're not your typical poems, though, as each piece of free verse is told in the particular character's voice and presented as an English-class assignment. The main character is Natalie, a damaged girl who's new in school. Tricia, who's living in a blended family, falls under Natalie's spell, even though her family and old friends say Natalie's a bad influence. There is Miguel, who's trying to overcome a tragic past and on whom Natalie sets her sights. Kyle, an artistic boy whose father wants him to follow him into the trades, rounds out the four who get tangled in a knot of teen angst. While each of the characters is a bit stereotypical, first-time author Wendy Phillips, a Richmond high school librarian, clearly knows teenagers. Natalie's character, shaped by a neglectful mom, a drunk absentee dad and the experience of sexual abuse, is dark and twisted. She writes 'at the new school I can tell it will be like shooting fish in a barrel.' Meanwhile, Tricia, who is half Japanese, watches her blond, blue-eyed blended family go off together and writes: They're a lovely family I'm sure. Mom and Jason dress up for the preschool parents' potluck. Emily looks adorable in frilled overalls and big blue eyes. I so don't belong here.' These teenagers are gritty, raw and intense. As in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders , the characters and the story are built and developed in very short order. Although at first I was skeptical of a novel told through poems, Phillips makes it work, getting her message across effectively through verse. The four become entwined, and their story rushes to a reckless climax. I finished the book in one go, and its message haunted me for days. Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun.

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