I have grown to dislike the overused term “coming of age” but that’s how many reviewers will describe Susie Taylor’s Even Weirder Than Before (2019, Breakwater Books), a chronicle of Daisy Radcliffe’s life journey from Grade 8 through the end of high school in the late 80s/early 90s. Fast-paced, it hits all the highs and lows of the teen years: boring classes, romances, school plays, house parties (and drinking too much), teen pregnancies and more. If you grew up in this era before smartphones and PCs, when telephones still had cords, you’ll be able to relate and you’ll love every page. Even though I went to high school a decade and a half earlier than Daisy and her friends, there was still much to identify within this bittersweet tale set in and around Toronto.As an example of contemporary fiction, it recalled to mind another excellent book from Breakwater Books, The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes. (2017) While it is set in a different time period (the digital age), it too was a balanced mix of humour and commentary on the times.
Some favourite passages:
- I stare at the back of Wanda’s head during last period. Her hair is shiny and thick like in shampoo commercials. sometimes she grabs it and piles it on top of her head; when she lets go, it tumbles down like a waterfall. Mine is always full of static and sticks flatly to my face. I try casually playing with my own hair like Wanda does, and a bunch of dandruff drifts down onto my desk.
- “We’re going to have fun in high school,” says Wanda
“Are we?” I ask.
“We’re going to blow everyone’s minds,” she says. I almost believe her.
- It’s good to get out of the apartment. Mum gets burgers for us all at the drive-through, and we eat them in the parking lot of Mr. Burger Giant. There is a sign for Mr. Burger Giant on a tall pole. We watch it as we eat. It is a huge lit-up burger face wearing sunglasses and a top hat. It flickers a little, and then while we are watching, the left side burns out like it’s had a stroke.
- My house is closer. We sneak in quietly, but Mum hears us anyway.
“Daisy?” she calls down.
“It’s just me,” I yell in my brightest I-have-not-been-drinking-or-smoking-or-sleeping-in-a-cemetery voice.
As I progressed through the book, I came to appreciate all the different characters Ms. Taylor has created, and it truly appears as if a teen is talking to you, disclosing all the personal stuff she cannot (or will not) share with her Mum or other adults. In high school, we kept to our close friends and we lived our lives together and shared experiences in a manner that we might never do with anyone ever again. An ideal summer read it will leave any reader of any age with a smile on their face, nostalgic for a more innocent time in our lives. I will add it to the 2020 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the First Book (Fiction) category.
To learn more about her book, there’s an insightful interview with Susie Taylor at the All Lit Up website: https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2019/An-Interview-with-Author-Susie-Taylor
Even Weirder Than Before by Susie Taylor
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