Focus. Click. Wind. These are the actions 11th grader Billie Taylor performs when taking photographs. She is a teenager trying to make sense of a tumultuous world: the book opens in April 1968, in New York City, and Billie is taking part in the occupation of Columbia University in protest of “a war on the poor, a war on Blacks, a war on the Vietnamese and a war on every draft-age person in this country!” The police response gives her flashbacks of witnessing a drug deal go wrong for her now-absent father.
Billie intended to photograph the occupation with her starter camera, a Rolleiflex she borrowed from her high school. (She’s saving her dad’s Hasselblad camera for just the right time.) Billie aspires to be a photojournalist like Catherine Leroy – who is the subject of the book’s cover illustration – and she frequently recalls Leroy’s photographs of the Vietnam War as a reminder that the “camera is her weapon, not her fists.” Weaponizing a camera is productive because Billie harbours a lot of anger. On top of coping with her father’s absence and grappling with her lack of control over world politics, she’s in a troubling relationship and thinks high school is a prison. When Billie’s mother suddenly moves her to Toronto, she finds herself having to serve more time, now that Grade 13 has been tacked on to her sentence, which makes her feel even more alone than before. She doesn’t seek a picture-perfect life, but she does come to find her place in Toronto by way of her camera.
Focus. Click. Wind. has more grit than many coming-of-age novels – grit in Billie’s perseverance and the grit of the harsh realities depicted that include police brutality, drug use, pornography, sex work, and bombing. Focus. Click. Wind. is filled with cultural details of life in the late 1960s. Billie, who is named after jazz singer Billie Holiday, reads Life, mourns Bobby Kennedy, works at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and goes on to have a uniform that is “an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow-polkadot [sic] bikini … Just like the song.” Readers may not grasp all of the references and may find some subjects triggering, but Billie’s story feels authentic. In an afterword, Amanda West Lewis provides historical context for the events of the novel that also include the parallels to her own adolescence.