Quill and Quire

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13

by Mary-Lou Zeitoun

Many teens have fantasies of murdering someone they hate, but 13-year-old Marnie Harmon is one of the few who attempt to indulge those fantasies. Fed up with her “stupid” media studies teacher, whose sexual improprieties pale only in comparison to the guidance-counsellor-cum-child-pornographer’s, straight-A student Marnie takes matters into her own hands with heartrending results.

Suburban 1980s Ottawa – think spin-the-bottle parties and school-designated smoking areas – is Marnie Harmon’s hell. Disco disgusts her, as do tube tops, feathered hair, and stiletto-wearing students who call her “suck” and “lezzie.” In a misguided attempt to quell what they see as their daughter’s insolent nature, Marnie’s parents transfer her from a co-ed school to an all-girl Catholic school. There, she befriends the clique of tough, popular girls who smoke, drink, strip, snort coke, and even play the drums in rock bands.

First-time novelist Mary-Lou Zeitoun’s 13 wryly evokes an unavoidable time and place in everyone’s life – the teenage years – without rendering the experience into saccharine nostalgia. Zeitoun’s imitation of the adolescent voice is dead-on, without falling into repetitious teenspeak. The dialogue is full of the feigned nonchalance and fear masked as irreverence that characterizes young people’s speech patterns. Zeitoun also amusingly chronicles the details and attitudes of the story’s early-1980s setting.

The book’s closing section, narrated by the now 18-year-old Marnie, is distinguished from the earlier chapters by Marnie’s somewhat matured and pithy voice. This section would have been more satisfying with a less abrupt transition, but again, Zeitoun deftly captures the nuances of Marnie’s voice.