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Alone at Ninety Foot

by Katherine Holubitsky

Fourteen-year-old Pam, the narrator of this accomplished first novel, spends a lot of time alone in a local beauty spot called Ninety Foot Pool. Her friends think that’s weird, especially since it’s just downstream from the suspension bridge from which her mother jumped to her death a year before. Edmonton writer Katherine Holubitsky takes risks with emotional matter that could be overwhelmingly dark, but far from being morbid, her book tells a moving, sometimes funny story of recovery.

Pam’s father is trying, disastrously, to date. Pam is just trying to be normal. She feels her loss has made her into a freak in the eyes of her peers, whose reactions range from awkward sensitivity to boorishness rivalling Homer Simpson’s. Holubitsky excels in portraying Pam’s classmates: she has a Salinger-like ear for adolescent speech, and one scene in particular, when a teacher tries to find the culprit who set off a stink bomb, is a minor classic. Pam’s observations of teen dynamics are astute, as when she realizes one super-popular girl doesn’t really have a lot of friends – she “just goes through a lot of friends.” Pam may be a little too perceptive for a damaged 14-year-old: in her wonderful reflections on painter Emily Carr, she’s a little too interesting to be true. But we’re willing to suspend any disbelief for the sheer pleasure of her company.

Less successful is a subplot about a child lost in the canyon, which seems oddly peripheral. Pam’s tragedy is one that few young people, thankfully, have to deal with, but everyone is affected by painful changes in family relationships brought on by the inexorable process of growing up. Pam’s experiences will engage a wide readership.