Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Award-winning author Jill MacLean takes readers back to the Newfoundland communities of The Nine Lives of Travis Keating (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008) and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009) where living is not always easy, especially for the titular young people.
As a member of a trio of nasty girls hatefully called the Shrikes, Sigrid Sugden learns too soon how tough it can be when she attempts to anonymously save the life of a girl who Tate and Mel, the other two Shrikes, have put in grave danger. Sigrid may not be the brains behind the violence or extortion like Tate, the daughter of horribly mean and devout parents, or the brawn like mother-less Mel, but Sigrid had found companionship with the two girls after her best friend moved away. However, when Tate discovers that Sigrid is the one who called for help, she and Mel launch a series of relentless attacks against Sigrid. Not yet thirteen, Sigrid's reputation as a Shrike leaves her friendless again.
So Sigrid is trying to find a way to make things right by distancing herself, emotionally and physically, from Tate and Mel and staying safe but, while her intentions are always good, her actions often backfire or cause more damage, especially after she tries to reinvent herself as an Avenger. Sigrid even tries to help Hud, the fourteen-year-old tormentor of Travis Keating, after he comes to her aid. But, a bully himself, Hud astutely recognizes that,
"Once you let your mean side off the leash, it runs you." (pg. 183)Morever, while looking for some friendship and trying to remake herself, always looking over her shoulder, Sigrid worries that the family she knows may be falling apart. Mom who is involved heavily in eBay buying and selling spends most of her time, including nights, away. Sigrid's older brother Lorne works and has a girlfriend, Sally, with whom he spends most of his time. Her step-dad Seal, who seems to love Sigrid more than her real father who lives in Fort McMurray, acts responsibly about getting groceries and shopping with Sigrid whenever she asks, but he's spending a lot less time at home and is rumoured to be seeing another woman.
As she did in The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy, Jill MacLean has created a preteen who is searching for the means to take control of her life. When family members are making decisions that will unduly affect them and friends may be lacking, how does a young person manage? By making Sigrid a part of the Shrikes, Jill MacLean demonstrates that even those who appear flawed can be redeemed, though obviously not all can. Knowing the wrath she will face if Tate discovers Sigrid's betrayal to save Prinny Murphy, Sigrid still finds a way to do it. Finally standing up to Tate and Mel when they bully a much younger child and acknowledging the child abuse several peers may be experiencing are especially telling moments for Sigrid, particularly since putting herself out there without backup could be disastrous.
Sigrid's intentions may often seem centred on her own needs and wants (i.e., friends, family, companionship) but The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden is simply about making things right. It may not be easy but it's always worthwhile. I think Jill MacLean has a similar agenda in her writing: show young readers that life can be difficult but nothing is ever final and there are ways to manage. Luckily her agenda is as benevolent as her writing is compassionate.