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Ellen Fremedon

by Joan Givner

Practically everyone in her hometown has asked 11-year-old Ellen Fremedon how she’s spending her summer vacation. Tired of answering “nothing,” she blurts out that she’s writing a book. That comic catalyst sets Vancouver Island author Joan Givner’s first children’s novel into motion. However, it turns out to be the weak link in a story told for the most part with comic zest and warmth.

I found Ellen not convincing as an aspiring writer, exhibiting only faint touches of the quintessential authorial traits captured so magnificently by Louise Fitzhugh in Harriet the Spy – the intense curiosity about people, the frighteningly keen sense of observation, and the overactive imagination spinning plots a wild mile a minute. Further muddling the premise’s credibility is Ellen’s apparent lack of understanding of the differences between fiction and non-fiction. When pressed about what’s she writing, she says it’s a novel, and that her family and friends are the characters, and the events in their lives form the plot – a description of autobiography if there ever was one.

To give this conceit viability, Givner, an accomplished biographer and autobiographer (and author of Thirty-four Ways of Looking at Jane Eyre and Katherine Anne Porter: A Life), could have comically explored the creative and ethical trials of Ellen’s fictionalizing of her life. Instead, she focuses on Ellen’s frustrations as a wannabe writer. Givner’s satirical jabs – such as Ellen’s complaint about needing money from a funding agency to complete her novel – seem mostly for her own amusement rather than for readers.

The story gets on firmer ground once several stronger subplots with adventure, suspense, and comedy galore move into the forefront, because Ellen is an engaging character. A bit of a bright misfit, she’s bad at sports but can slam-dunk any adversary with the formidable rhetorical skills she’s learned from her philosopher father. Ellen’s emotional and family conflicts, vividly realized by Givner, are the true heart of this entertaining though flawed portrait of a budding writer.


Reviewer: Q&Q Staff

Publisher: Groundwood Books


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 176 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-88899-557-1

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2004-11


Age Range: 9- 12