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Sticks and Stones

by Beth Goobie

Rumours start that 15-year-old Jujube Gelb is a slut after she goes to a school dance with a popular boy who’s got a fast reputation. No matter how much she proclaims her innocence, Jujube is branded while her classmates – boys and girls alike – make jokes at her expense. The final humiliation comes when she discovers terrible lies about her written on the school’s washroom walls. Finally, Jujube decides to fight back and gain solidarity with all the girls who are called sluts. For her English project about the power of words, she takes photographs of all the graffiti, then describes in words how these labels make people feel. She discovers she has far more power over words and what they can do than she ever expected.

Beth Goobie’s Sticks and Stones is one of two titles launching a new series for reluctant teen readers called Orca Soundings. (The other, William Bell’s Death Wind, is equally as fast-paced but not as well realized.) Orca aims to publish eight to 10 of these plot-driven books a year by outstanding YA novelists. Goobie (winner of the CLA’s Young Adult Book Award for Before Wings) has taken this limited format of just 96 pages and created a first-rate YA novel. She excels at bringing readers into Jujube’s world and showing them first-hand how she is affected emotionally. But it is Goobie’s ability to take us deeper into Jujube’s life that makes this novel stand out. As well as the issue of gossip, Goobie tackles single-parent families, child and wife abuse, friendship, the nature of good relationships between the sexes, and empowerment. A totally compelling read, Sticks and Stones bodes well for this high-interest easy-vocabulary series.