February 23, 2017

A Month of Mondays

by Joëlle Anthony
Second Story Press
340 pp.
Ages 9-13
March 2017

I was reminded of the Boomtown Rats song "I Don't Like Mondays" when I read the title of Joëlle Anthony's middle grade book and I couldn't even imagine a month full of those oppressive days.  It's just too overwhelming.  Not unlike Suze Tamaki's life.

Suze Tamaki is twelve years old and a Grade 7 student at Maywood Junior High in Victoria, BC.  She lives with her father and her slovenly sister, seventeen-year-old Tracie, in a cramped apartment.  Her Aunt Jenny a.k.a. AJ and Uncle Bill essentially round out her family.  That is, until her mother Caroline who’d abandoned them when Suze was 3 returns to town and wants to reconnect with her daughters.  Everyone has an opinion about that happening, especially Tracie who vehemently refuses to have anything to do with Caroline or allow Suze to do so.

At school, things aren’t any more settled. Suze, who regularly spends time in the office of the principal, Mr. Farbinger, and seems to be quite content to coast through her coursework, is moved into Honours English to work with best friend and super achiever Amanda on a speech presentation.  With the aim of presenting to the school board, the two decide to take up the cause of the custodians who are set to lose their jobs to more cost-efficient contractors.  But even that becomes a fiasco when Suze finds some unorthodox ways to research the custodians’ impact on schools.

Meanwhile, Suze is trying to navigate a potential relationship with a mother who seems to be out of touch with her children, though she has plenty of money to try and make an impact.  The question for Suze is whether any of her hurdles–her schooling, her mother, the rest of her family–are worth the effort necessary to overcome them and lead to some positive resolution.  Unfortunately or not, it’s up to her how she proceeds.  And when life feels like a month of Mondays, it’s hard to get up for any of it.

It’s nice to see a kid who neither has it all together or sits at the bottom of the heap trying to crawl out of the despair of a horrific life. Suze is probably more like most kids, at neither extreme but somewhere in the middle, just trying to make sense of the people and circumstances of her life.  She may not always choose well–her recurrent trips to the principal’s office attest to that–and may get distracted and discouraged but she keeps on plugging away.  Without creating a superhero for the middle grade set, Joëlle Anthony has created a very realistic young teen who’s just trying to find her way.  She may drag a few people along for the ride, and it’s sometimes a bumpy one, but she keeps heading somewhere and in her own time. I guess that’s as real as it gets, isn’t it?  And Joëlle Anthony ensures the reader comes away with a lesson in stick-with-it-ness, demonstrating that things always resolve themselves somehow, sometimes more and sometimes less positively than you might imagine.

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