February 23, 2012

40 Things I Want To Tell You

Written by Alice Kuipers
HarperTrophy Canada
283 pp.
Ages 13+

When I read a book that touches me, really touches me, I always finish it, close the cover, lay my hand over it, and just sit.  Sometimes I just re-immerse myself in the story, sometimes I weep, sometimes I wonder how the characters managed, sometimes I ponder the title and the cover.  With 40 Things I Want To Tell You by Alice Kuipers, I did it all.

Amy, a.k.a. Bird to her family and best friends, is the queen of lists and the princess of planning.  She knows that she and her good friend, now boyfriend, Griffin, will have sex for the first time on her seventeenth birthday.  She knows what she needs to do and how hard to work to get to Oxford when she finishes school.  Bird is so in control that she sets herself up as "Miss Take-Control-of-Your-Life" on a website offering advice to teens.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of stuff she needs to tell others but she doesn't.  She doesn't tell her best friend, Cleo, about the website until it's been up for months.  She doesn't tell Griffin that she is anxious about their first time, and then when she can't "do it" the night of her birthday, she doesn't tell him why.  She doesn't tell anyone that she's attracted to a new boy at school, Pete Loewen, not even him when he approaches her.  Cleo asks Pete out and he declines, and still Bird tells her nothing about her encounters with Pete which now include mind-blowing kisses.

Of course, Bird isn't the only one who needs to share things.  Since the death of Griffin's dad several years ago, his mom's mental health has been rocky and getting worse.  Offers of help are declined and her condition minimized when he speaks to Bird.  Then, there's Bird's mom who denies anything is wrong, though her mood is off and her organizational expertise (passed down to Bird) is showing weakness.  But, when Bird's dad, an entrepreneur currently focusing on solar bricks, goes to the bank, unbeknownst to this wife, to get a mortgage on the house, which Bird's grandmother left her mom, Bird just can't face the fighting.  Bird just runs away from it, going to the park where she often sits.  A chance meeting with Pete leads Amy (as he calls her) to pitch her self-control and have sex with him.

So, although she continues to offer free advice online, even listing "Top Tips" (e.g., Top Tip 18: When you make a decision, say it out loud; pg. 156), Bird has even more that she should be telling: to Griffin, to Cleo, to Pete, to her parents, and even to herself.  Self-denial is a big issue for Bird.  And, in her not-telling, all their interconnected lives are shattered and transformed.  She would have been wise to heed her own advice, as her own Top Tips continue to reflect the circumstances of her own life.

I wish I could reveal the moving conclusion to Alice Kuipers' story of Bird, but I fear that I will spoil it for the reader.  Suffice it to say that Bird's reactions and resignations and decisions are poignant, heartbreaking and honest, as well as justifiable to her, whether you agree with them or not.  Alice Kuipers' skill at weaving an emotionally engaging story with remarkable characters, likeable or not, like those in our own lives, will disarm you effortlessly until you realize you have been invariably touched forever.

Here are 5 things I want to tell you:
1. If you're a teen, female or male, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
2. If you're a parent of a teen, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
3. If you are a teacher or counsellor, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
4. If you appreciate great literature, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
5. Read 40 Things I Want To Tell You. 

No comments:

Post a Comment