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Me and the Blondes

by Teresa Toten

Like much YA fiction – and YA life – Teresa Toten’s clever new novel is about gaining admission to the pack. Sophie, the “me” of Me and the Blondes, has tried to fit in at six schools, but failed when the other kids found out her father is in prison for murder. However, her zany mother and aunties have high hopes for Northern High. Sophie knows the rules now: never get caught eating your lunch in the washroom, don’t hang out with outcasts, avoid at all costs a reputation as a slut. And she has a strategy: find the blondes, the farthest in of the in crowd, and stick to them like glue.

Set in the 1970s, an era famous for its nonconformity, Me and the Blondes pokes fun at groovy English teachers and chaotic open-plan schools. But Toten makes it clear that life doesn’t change much, no matter what the era. She writes with insight and compassion about the complex moral universe of adolescence. Her first novel, The Onlyhouse, was (like this one) about a girl and her embarrassing middle-European mother. Her second, the Governor General’s Award nominee The Game, was about a girl in psychiatric recovery.

Again Toten’s central character is a young woman with humour, intelligence, and grit. Sophie seems astonishingly together for a Grade 9 kid with a traumatic background – but then again, she has that crazy family rooting for her.

The dialogue is smart and the story dextrously plotted. Toten provides several interesting twists and turns, one of them Sophie’s relationship with her tragic father. We might expect the blondes to make for a false turn themselves, but there again Toten surprises us.