Flannery is 16. She has spent her whole life in an East Coast town so small she attended Happy Kids daycare with practically every one of her current classmates. One of them in particular makes her heart go boom: Tyrone. He’s the talented but troubled graffiti artist she’s known, seemingly, since they were born at the same time, in the same hospital. She knows everything about him, like how he chews with his lips shut tight because his stepfather berates his eating habits at the dinner table. But over the course of her last year of high school, Flannery discovers that maybe she doesn’t know his whole story.
Tyrone is not the only thing on Flannery’s mind. Her best friend, Amber, operating on the instructions of her domineering new boyfriend, abandons Flannery. She’s tormented by a roving pack of bullying girls. She’s constantly worried about failing entrepreneur class. Most of the chaos in Flannery’s life, however, revolves around her mother, Miranda. Flannery fluctuates wildly and realistically between admiring and admonishing the woman who gave birth to her at 19. Miranda is an artist successful enough to have her performance pieces written up in Canadian Art, but not wealthy enough to be certain the heating bill will get paid. Flannery wishes her mother would give it all up and go back to waitressing – anything to provide stability, calm, and a steady paycheque.
Other people’s needs are constantly put ahead of Flannery’s. Sometimes by her mother (Flannery is left hanging when Miranda spends the money earmarked for a biology textbook on a toy helicopter for Flannery’s little brother, Felix), sometimes by Flannery herself (she includes Tyrone’s name on their joint assignment even though he never showed up to work on it). She can’t help but be resentful.
When it comes to light that Tyrone’s home life is worse than chaotic, Flannery realizes that maybe she doesn’t have it so bad. Her mother may have trouble making ends meet, but she provides a loving and creative home for her children, and in the end that’s what they really need.
Lisa Moore is a Canadian force of fiction, with more than a few award nods to her name, including a Man Booker Prize nomination, multiple Scotiabank Giller Prize nominations, and a CBC Canada Reads win. This is her first foray into the world of young adult, and while expectations were high, that doesn’t make it any less of an achievement. Like the most exceptional YA, Flannery accurately captures the confusion and drama of being a teenager while keeping readers squarely in the real world. Moore’s characters – even ones we meet for less than a paragraph – are three-dimensional and interesting. Everything feels very familiar. There is a raucous party scene that so closely echoed one of my youth I Googled the author to double-check we didn’t meet in rural British Columbia in 1995.
Flannery is perfectly planted in the sweet spot of YA writing. It’s good for the smart literary teen and the teen who plows through salacious bestsellers. It’s also for the adult who wants to remember how hard and how beautiful it was to be a teenager. This one is highly recommended.