Suze Tamaki is a Grade 7 slacker whose wry observations about school and the world around her make her both loveable and relatable. Any tween reader will be able to identify with Suze’s fears that she is the “backup” friend in her social group, and her description of her friends’ “boyfriends” is sure to elicit a smile.
When an insightful teacher recognizes Suze’s academic potential and moves her to an honours English class, Suze suddenly finds herself caring about doing well and not letting anyone down, least of all herself. Then her long-absent mother reappears out of the blue, making her life infinitely more complicated.
Many of Suze’s family relationships and dynamics ring true. Even though her biological mom hasn’t been around, she nevertheless has two maternal stand-ins: her Aunt Jenny, who adopts the role of disciplinarian as needed, and her older sister, Tracie, who takes breaks from being a bratty teenager to care for Suze. Suze’s father is loving, but sometimes distant, preferring to show his affection through shared activity rather than words or physical closeness.
The novel’s most poignant relationship is between Suze and Tracie. Suze barely remembers their mother (she was a toddler when the woman ran off), but Tracie harbours profound resentment. Suze struggles to reconcile her desire to get to know her mom with the knowledge that this will hurt her sister. As Suze becomes reacquainted with her mother, she is drawn to her, but feels understandably wary. Her conflicted emotions are raw, and very real, as are those of the other characters. Tracie’s hurt and anger at Suze and their mother’s relationship drives a wedge between the siblings, adding even more drama to Suze’s life.
While the story is interesting and the characters relatable, the novel as a whole feels disjointed in places. Author Joëlle Anthony strives to give as much context as possible, but sometimes the reader gets lost in these details, and there are a couple of interactions between Suze and other characters that feel unnecessary. At one point, Suze has a conversation with a friend’s boyfriend that seems to be leading to an important conclusion, only to end before the expected payoff. This and other similar scenes distract the reader from the central storyline, rather than adding to it.
The story’s greatest strength is its realism. Anthony, a playwright and actress in addition to being an author, has been the writer-in-residence at Gabriola Elementary School in B.C. for six years, and her immersion in the world of her characters is apparent in her writing. From the turbulent emotions to the dialogue, it’s easy to believe in Suze and how she relates to the upheaval in her life.
Overall, A Month of Mondays is a highly engaging read that gives due consideration to serious issues, but tempers them with gentle humour. Like Suze, the ending of the book is hopeful. Though not perfect, things are moving in a positive direction, and that’s okay: because Suze has shown herself to be capable and determined, we know she will turn out all right.