Author of six previous YA books, Quebec’s Lori Weber returns with a novel that is not only a gripping story but also a bold experiment in narrative form. Picture Me takes what might otherwise have been a predictable issue-driven novel about bullying and adds interest by having each chapter switch between a trio of narrative voices: the bully (Chelsea), the victim (Krista), and the victim’s friend (Tessa). Despite differing priorities and family lives, the three middle-school girls are all striving for control in a world in which they are relatively powerless.
The story opens with an incident that sets the stage for all that follows. A surprisingly clueless teacher calls on overweight Krista to read a poem about body image aloud in class, and then says nothing when Krista is taunted by Chelsea. The conflict escalates until Chelsea orchestrates a public humiliation of Krista, who sinks into a deep depression, refuses to return to school, and begins taking large doses of diet pills ordered off the Internet without her parents’ knowledge.
Although Krista and Tessa are sympathetic characters, Chelsea is the most complex of the three protagonists. Ignored at home by her mother, she begins spending time with a drug dealer, Tyler, who is in his early twenties. Though Chelsea considers herself quite mature, her narrative is filled with fantasies of hanging out with celebrities, buying expensive clothes, and becoming Tyler’s trophy girlfriend; she is unable to see that Tyler is manipulative and controlling. It is not clear whether readers are supposed to accept her perception of things or be horrified by her actions, born from an eagerness to remain Tyler’s “perfect” girl.
The conclusion suggests that Chelsea’s bullying behaviour has come to an end, but in the final pages she seems to be slipping into a world of drugs, and, possibly, prostitution. Whether this is a narrative comeuppance or a reminder that not all plot threads can be wrapped up neatly is up to readers to decide.