Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/6/2009 (3896 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
By Lauren Kirshner
McClelland & Stewart, 326 pages, $23
Like many recent literary heroines, Lucy Bloom is a bright, precocious and awkward preteen trying to find her place in the world.
Like many of these other young women — Freya in Christina Sunley's Tricking of Freya and Maya in Edeet Ravels Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth, for example — Lucy is hindered in her search by self-absorbed or unstable parents, mean-spirited classmates, and an acute lack of confidence.
Lucy may not be an original, but as depicted by 27-year-old Toronto author Lauren Kirshner in her promising debut novel Where We Have to Go, she is genuine.
Lucy lives in Toronto, the only child of an unhappy Jewish couple, a glamour photographer father turned travel agent and a former Bulgarian beauty queen mother.
Lucy loves her cat, wants boys to notice her, thinks that she is fat, and yearns for a freedom she can't quite define.
As she matures, moving from junior high to high school in the 1990s, she becomes increasingly attuned to her parents unhappiness and increasingly desperate to salvage her idea of family.
A cast of supporting characters, most of them well-drawn, alternately aid or distract Lucy in her efforts. They include her widowed grandfather, her only childhood friend Tommy and her well-meaning aunt Florence.
Two of the supporting cast, however, both stereotypical mean girls, are virtually indistinguishable one from the other.
Other elements of the narrative are as equally fuzzy.
Lucy's parents, Frank and Joy, initially are depicted as being almost negligent in their disregard for their daughter, yet their disinterest fizzles into a non-issue in the book's latter half.
Ironically, in spite of this major flaw, the second half of the novel is actually much stronger than the first half.
This is largely due to back-to-back chapters that describe the euthanasia of a beloved pet and Lucy's subsequent decision to stop eating.
Both situations are painstakingly and touchingly evoked. Kirshner's description of anorexia, in fact, is so tenderly and meticulously rendered, that it is gut-wrenching to read.
"I told myself that if I weighed a little less, when I looked in the mirror I would finally see the girl I had always wanted to be staring back," Lucy confesses.
This self-imposed eating disorder is just one of the ways in which Lucy tries to take control of her life. Naturally, it fails, but a six-week stay at a guest house does prompt her to resume eating and to turn her life around. Arguably, this turn-about happens a little too quickly and a little too easily. Yet, in spite of this and its few other failings, this novel is well worth reading.
Lucy's voice is smart and strong and clear, and like the young author who created her, it deserves to be heard.
Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer.