November 19, 2011

Love is a Four-Letter Word

by Vikki VanSickle
Scholastic Canada
237 pp.
Ages 9-13
Clarissa, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in Words that Start with B (Scholastic Canada, 2010), continues to support her mom through her treatments, "Run for the Cure" training, and now budding relationship with her personal trainer, Doug.  But, except for her friendship with Benji, one that is experiencing its own ups and downs, Clarissa is naive about the role of love in different relationships.  

Always aspiring to be an actress, Clarissa envisions herself in a leading role in a local young people's theatre production of The Wizard of Oz, coercing Benji to accompany her to the auditions.  Unfortunately for Clarissa, she is not chosen but Benji is selected to play the Cowardly Lion.  So while tending to her bruised pride, Clarissa has to find a way to uphold her part in their intense friendship even though Benji is finding success and new friends without her.

Then, Mattie, a friend whose crushes seem to change weekly, makes Clarissa consider her feelings for boys, specifically Michael, a classmate who may like her.  Clarissa is unsure about her interest in Michael and learns through a series of missteps how careless comments can hurt.

Finally, Annie, Clarissa's mom, is finding love for the first time since Clarissa was born.  Before it was just Clarissa and her mom and her mom's hair salon, and Clarissa thought that had always been good enough.  But, Doug seems to be around a lot now, and Clarissa can't seem to balance her fears for her mother's health with her worries that she's losing her mom and that secrets are being kept.

VanSickle's writing gives her young characters, especially Clarissa, the clear and honest voices of youth, hopeful but laden with anxiety. Clarissa makes a lot of mistakes as she attempts to understand the different loves she sees and experiences, using trial-and-error to choose what she should be feeling or doing.  So, with some suitable direction from her supporting cast of youth and adults, plus a lot of apologizing, Clarissa seems to find a path that may work for her, at least for now.  After all, even if Clarissa doesn't know it yet, love can also be fickle (sorry, that's six letters).

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