June 17, 2014

Bye-Bye, Evil Eye

by Deborah Kerbel
Dancing Cat Books
168 pp.
Ages 9-12
May, 2014

How could summer be anything but blissful for thirteen-year-old Dani Price when she's taking her first plane ride to spend a three-week summer holiday with her friend Kat Papadakis in Greece at Kat's aunt and uncle's resort?  Even with Kat's superstitious mom as their chaperone, Dani is sure that it was
"going to be a summer to remember. I can feel it on my skin and in my bones–like that whispery tickle up your spine when something big's about to happen." (pg. 9)
Because Dani knows that she's fortunate to be popular and pretty, she is determined to help Kat get a little romance in her life, not just through the countless romance novels she reads and hides from her disapproving mother.  While her first steps included getting Kat into contact lenses and trendier clothes, she's now determined to help find the boy that will be Kat's first kiss.

Problem arises when Dani continues to be the one to draw boys' attention, starting with Costa, a young man who works at the resort, and then Nick Barbas, a fourteen-year-old friend of Kat's family who also arrives from Toronto.  Crushing on Nick, Dani makes sure that Kat is not feeling the same for Nick, though Kat doesn't seem to be interested in any of the boys Dani suggests for that first kiss.  Soon, Nick and Dani become inseparable, enjoying hanging out on the beach with Kat, chatting, swimming and even sneaking out for a real date.

But that bliss is tempered after days suffering with food poisoning, a fall that puts her on crutches, a bee sting, and finally the loss of her passport, preventing Dani from returning to Canada with Nick and Kat.  Though Mrs. Papadakis is generous with her mothering of Dani during her times of need, she is sure that the bad luck Dani is experiencing may be due to a terrible curse, the Evil Eye.  And even though Dani is not superstitious, her bad luck continues once she is back in Toronto.  While she doesn't want to admit to Nick that she believes in the curse, Dani consults with Kat and her mother on reversing the effects of the Evil Eye.

Deborah Kerbel enjoys flavouring the sweetness of young love and the exoticism of a Mediterranean holiday with much humour. Take Dani's descriptions of her holiday activities to which she offers some semblance of education, all to appease her mother.
"Dear Mom, yesterday I learned all about traditional Greek food and beverages and fishing techniques.  Today Kat and I plan on studying local beach life in its natural habitat..." (pg. 31)
Hard to believe that Dani's actually writing about enjoying a huge Greek meal, tasting the aperitif ouzo, learning that Costa lost several fingers when his dad used dynamite to fish, and then going out for the day at the beach for suntanning, swimming and boy-watching! And, when Dani is convinced she's cursed and needs a surefire remedy, her attempts, here with garlic, lean towards the hilarious!
"If three cloves are good, six will be even better. As per Kat’s instructions, I peel them and stick them all over my clothes. One in each pocket, one tucked into my underwear, two in my T-shirt pocket. I have one left over, so I put it in my mouth and swallow it" (pg. 135)
Even with a plot based on superstitions, Bye-Bye, Evil Eye is a totally believable story.  Young teens trying to navigate relationships with friends, mothers, boys, and new situations are liable to grasp onto any explanation they choose if it fits their way of thinking at that moment.  Given some time, perspectives will undoubtedly change, explaining why the spontaneous and lively Dani changes her mind about curses, and why the more traditional Kat is less than open about sharing details that could be relevant to their situation. As middle grade fiction, Bye-Bye, Evil Eye will give young readers a bit of escapism (holiday in Greece!), a bit of boy-girl crushing, a little girl drama, and some mother issues.  Reality and fancy all wrapped in a delightful tale in which not everything is as it seems.

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