Canadian Children's Book News Review - Fishtailing

Reviewed by: Rachel Seigel

Miguel, Kyle, Tricia and Natalie are four teens whose lives are spinning out of control. Miguel has come from a wartorn country somewhere in Central America, Kyle is a musician with a romantic soul who longs for Natalie to notice him, and Tricia - half-Japanese, half-white - feels like the odd girl out in her mother's new, perfect, white family. And then there's Natalie: emotionally damaged in horrifying ways, she becomes the master puppeteer in the other teens' lives, playing a game that can only end in tragedy.

This debut novel by author Wndy Phillips, told entirely in verse and in six voices, touches on a number of difficult topics such as bullying, abuse and cutting. The poems of the teens alternate between each character's internal thoughts, which move the action along, and the assignments they are completing for class, which are often dark and emotionally raw. The adult voices of the teacher Mrs Farr and the guidance counselor Mrs Nishi are represented primarily through either the teacher's notes to her students or through the emails back and forth about the students, filling in some of the background information. Occasionally, the reader is given a glimpse into the thoughts of these two women, but the primary focus is on the teens.

The poems are excellent and the author beautifully captures the complex emotions of the teens. The language is spare, yet each of the poems contain important pieces of the puzzle, merging together to create a story. This format, while satisfying for a sophisticated reader, may pose challenges for a weak or reluctant reader who is unused to drawing inferences to derive meaning.

Fast paced, and often heartbreaking, this novel offers the reader much to discuss and think about long after reading.

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