August 02, 2018

Raw Talent

Written by Jocelyn Shipley
Orca Book Publishers
138 pp.
Ages 11-14
August 2018

Everyone wants to help out Sunflower Farm, the family farm of Stonehill High students Vanessa and Heath. Since the death of their father, their mother has been struggling to keep the farm running and the school community is coming together for Farmshine, a performance and market fundraiser.  Raw Talent's narrator, Paisley who is Heath's Grade 9 classmate, intends to volunteer with her best friend Jasmeer but what Paisley really wants to do is perform. Her ambition is to be a singer-songwriter and she has no problem posting videos of herself performing but her stage fright is discouraging her from signing up to sing at Farmshine.  With a mother who is an accomplished flutist with the symphony and a university music teacher, Paisley is just not sure she can cut it on stage.

With celebrated singer-actor Maxine Gaston staying at Jasmeer's parents' B & B while her local home is being renovated and she is performing at the Stratford Festival, Jasmeer arranges for her to coach Paisley to help get over her performance anxiety.  Maxine Gaston is a great help but Paisley, who has much to overcome because of a disastrous audition at age 10 with the award-winning Sweetland Singers, is being harassed online, by phone and in person by Cadence, the self-important girlfriend of Heath and soloist with the Sweetland Singers.  Can Paisley get beyond her insecurities about her lower singing voice and Cadence's nastiness to stand up in front of an audience and do what she loves?

Raw Talent is a feel-good hi-lo novel for older middle graders and young teens. While written at an easier reading level, Raw Talent's story, part of the Orca Limelights series based in the performance arts, will resonant with young teens aspiring to new endeavours but unsure of their abilities. Jocelyn Shipley makes sure that the reader realizes that having a dream is futile if you don't set goals to achieve it.  It's up to Paisley to decide what she can and cannot do. Not her mother, not Cadence, not the director of the Sweetland Singers. Just her. She might have been devastated when she didn't get into the Sweetland Singers but she found a way to continue singing and performing albeit in the privacy of her room while still sharing it publicly. Then, with Maxine's coaching, she has the opportunity to take steps forward. Though not easy, especially with self-doubt and bullying that erodes her confidence, Paisley steps up. Jocelyn Shipley doesn't just hand Paisley the opportunity, though.  She makes sure the girl works for what she wants. Maxine Gaston is encouraging but she is not effusive and she makes it clear that, if Paisley isn't willing to put herself out there, she's not going to bother coaching her. That could be an "ouch" moment, but it's not because it's a challenge that Paisley accepts. Similarly, the bullying that Paisley experiences via Cadence is nasty but impactful and still she finds the means eventually to toss it off with a "Whatever". 

Whether Jocelyn Shipley intended, she's affirming Nietzsche's belief that "That which does not kill, makes us stronger".  Paisley's performance anxiety and Cadence's bullying can't stop her and, in fact, they give her the opportunity to be more than she could have imagined for herself.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and give my book a great review, Helen!