March 01, 2013

Days That End in Y

by Vikki VanSickle
Scholastic Canada
194 pp.
Ages 9-12

When Vikki VanSickle introduced readers to Clarissa Delaney in Words that Start with B (Scholastic Canada, 2010), Clarissa was trying to cope with her mother being diagnosed with breast cancer, with her best friend Benji being bullied, and with a boy leaving her odd gifts.  Fortunately, with treatment, lifestyle changes and a new relationship, her mom's health is renewed in Love is a Four-Letter Word (Scholastic Canada, 2011), leaving Clarissa worrying more about her own feelings: for Benji, who gets chosen for a production of The Wizard of Oz in which Clarissa had hoped, almost expected, to win a role; for boys, particularly Michael; and for her mother's love for the new man in her life, Doug.

In Days That End in Y, Clarissa is still confused by her relationships and even more so as the summer sees her going solo, with friend Mattie at camp and Benji heavily involved with the Gaslighters drama group.  In fact, Benji and the drama group are enthralled with their summer director, the charismatic university student, Dean, and Mattie can't seem to stop telling Clarissa about her awesome and infinitely wise camp counsellor.  And then Mom and Doug get engaged. 

While prepping the house for Doug and his dog Suzy to move in, Clarissa's mom finds her old high school yearbooks, which Clarissa secretly squirrels away with the intent of learning more about her biological dad.  Though her initial aim may have been to learn more about his identity and character, even pumping Mom's best friend Denise for more information, an unexpected sighting of him at her maybe-boyfriend's baseball game has Clarissa determined to meet him.  But all goes awry when Clarissa learns that her dad never knew of her existence, and that her mother's portrayal of him as a deadbeat was used to mask her own flaws and mistakes.  As events progress towards the summer wedding, Clarissa begins to wonders if the most important relationships in her life are actually what they seem to be or only as she wants them to be.

Middle-grade readers often find a dearth of great realistic fiction that reflects their lives but is still interesting to them without crossing into the mature issues of young adult fiction.  Surprisingly, they do enjoy reading about characters slightly older than themselves to help prepare for the changes that puberty, high school and boy-girl relationships will bring, but they need to see that the ineptitude and confusion that comes with those changes is universal.  Vikki VanSickle's Clarissa and Benji are the perfect escorts for middle-grade readers to navigate those transition years.  

In Days That End in Y, as in the first two books, Clarissa and Benji make mistakes with each other and with others, including their families.  They are on the cusp of reluctantly giving up on their "childish" missions for new experiences, regardless how awkward.  They're looking for heroes amongst those with whom they connect - parents, friends, camp counsellors, directors, other adults - always assuming that they've chosen wisely, unless otherwise indicated.  There is angst, questioning, confusion, misunderstanding, arrogance and the optimism of youth.  That is, until otherwise indicated.  Fortunately, for Vikki VanSickle's Clarissa and Benji, they are there to support each other when things begin to get out of control, as is the norm for all, on Days That End in Y.


Sadly, Days That End in Y concludes Vikki VanSickle's middle-grade trilogy about Clarissa and Benji.  Sadder still is the fact that Vikki VanSickle provides fodder for another great book based on a revelation at the end of Days That End in Y.  It is a series that will be greatly missed but one of which we can be proud as readers of wonderful #youngCanLit.

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