July 28, 2013

The Rule of Thirds

by Chantel Guertin
ECW Press
192 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2013
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy 

Most photographers will know The Rule of Thirds, the premise by which a frame is divided into thirds to help determine a photo's composition by placement.  This basic rule can make the difference between a photo that works and one that is solely documentation. Sixteen-year-old Philadelphia Greene, a.k.a. Pippa, photo editor of the school newspaper, president of the photo club, and daughter of a pro photographer, knows the rule of thirds.  And she can tell when there's something off about the composition of the parts.  But the photos that the new kid, handsome Ben Baxter, shows her to get in the photo club definitely work, thereby allowing him the opportunity to enter the Vantage Point photo competition.  Vantage Point, the temporal focus of all the chapter headings, drives everything Pippa does and wants, offering the opportunity to attend the Tisch School for the Arts camp at NYC.
"The photography competition–less than three weeks away, and whether I win or lose will alter the course of my life." (pg. 3)
But Ben's interest in her and confidence in connecting with her has Pippa perplexed, though somewhat intrigued. It's especially confusing when she gets a placement at St. Christopher's Hospital, the same hospital at which her father had died from pancreatic cancer just three months earlier. Here she reconnects with Dylan McCutter, an 18-year-old on whom she's been crushing for years.  Between dealing with panic attacks brought on by being around the hospital and other places associated with her father, and trying to get Dylan interested in her, even though he seems close to another girl who works at the hospital, Pippa continues to fulfil her placement obligations, visit her psychologist for grief counselling and keep photographing for Vantage Point.

Perhaps because of her grief, Pippa seems to be oblivious to a lot of goings-on around her, including how others see her.  So, when Ben continues to come on to Pippa, acting proprietary over her, and her best friend Dace starts running hot and cold, and there is a spate of technology thefts plaguing the school and the community, Pippa may notice but she doesn't take it in until it comes disastrously close to ruining everything she's been working towards.   

While Chanel Guertin does leave the reader satisfied that things will work out alright for Pippa in The Rule of Thirds, she doesn't distort circumstances to produce a blithe ending where the bad guy gets caught, the protagonist wins the competition, and boy and girl finally get together.  But things can and do still work themselves out, just as they often do in reality, though maybe not perfectly but credibly.  It's like that perfect photograph:  it might have all the right components but it's up to the photographer to see the art within and rearrange them to resonate for both the artist and the audience.  Chantel Guertin has accomplished that for the young adult reader, balancing fears, grief, romance, friendship, angst, ambitions and common sense, in different proportions to produce a picture that works.

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