August 01, 2018

Fifteen Point Nine

Written by Holly Dobbie
240 pp.
Ages 13+
June 2018

The bullying that fifteen-year-old Agatha Murphy and others endure at the hands of “Those Girls” and the “Idiot Boys” who follow them around is physical, degrading and unconscionable.  They only see that Susan is overweight, that Carson is very small, that Travis is highly intelligent, and that Nicole has sweat issues. But it’s Aggie’s countless issues that are at the heart of Fifteen Point Nine. Aggie’s mother Jane is a paranoid alcoholic who scavenges and hoards and is oblivious to her daughter’s needs for food, clean clothes, and even a functional washroom. The bullies may ridicule Aggie for being dirty and smelling, as well as rummaging for food, but they and everyone else, including the school, doesn’t know about her mother and Aggie’s need to self-harm to relieve her anxiety and despair. Aggie may lighten that despair with barbed monikers including “The Torture Chamber” for school and “The Dump” for home, by ranking potential moments on her Official Romantic Scale, and by imagining outrageous scenarios that would whisk her away, but Aggie knows her situation is becoming intolerable.
I’m going to try to be more of a human being and less of a rodent, although it’s obviously something that I’m not very good at. (pg. 14)
In an attempt to take some control, Aggie decides to use an old camcorder to document the bullying in all its visual and audio horror. Unexpectedly, Susan becomes an ally in Aggie’s video endeavour, as do Carson, Travis and Nicole. These teens, deemed misfits by their cruel peers, become the Warriors Video Club and resolve to expose the bullies.

While Aggie continues to suffer at the hands of her horrid mother and the bullies, there are unexpected glimmers of something better, including  kindness from a school janitor and several moms, some Johnny Cash-infused wisdom from Jane’s newest suitor,
"Pain ain’t no good thing. Aint’t nobody out there gonna hand you a prize for storin’ shit in your heart.” (pg. 185)
and, most importantly, notes from an anonymous boy who wants her to attend the Winter Solstice Carnival dance. But, when a classmate commits suicide, Aggie’s perspective on survival and taking charge is put to the test.

Fifteen Point Nine may be Holly Dobbie’s debut novel but her teaching experiences with teens have served her well in telling the story convincingly. For those living through bullying, parental neglect, suicide of a peer and dejection, the authenticity of Fifteen Point Nine will hit hard, particularly in its harshness and near hopelessness. Still, Holly Dobbie makes it clear that, for those who do suffer at the hands of others, every day of survival is a victory and making it past fifteen point nine (just less than sixteen years of age) is a triumph.

(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2018, September). [Review of the book Fifteen Point Nine, by Holly Dobbie]. Quill & Quire, 84 (7): 37.

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