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The Candy Darlings

by Christine Walde

In her wildly inventive debut novel, Ontario author Christine Walde begins as a girl-versus-girl-gang story, then heads deep into the psychological woods. After Walde’s unnamed narrator starts at a new school in a new town, an even newer girl, Megan, steps into the spotlight. Whereas the narrator has chosen normalcy at all costs as her survival strategy, Megan goes on the attack, firing from the lip. She’ll smoke a joint or take a slug of cherry brandy, but her drugs of choice are candy and stories. She’s a loose cannon, a firewall against the trio of diabolically perfect girls who make the narrator’s life miserable and ultimately endanger it. As the two outsiders bond, the narrator’s instinct to seek the safety of the pack fades, and she too discovers the heady power of daring to be different.

The book’s uncompromisingly adolescent focus, graphic language, and candour about sex – all utterly convincing – are bound to make some adult readers uneasy. Besides, adults don’t come off well here, many of them being too self-absorbed, sad, or addicted to see what’s happening under their noses.

Younger readers may find the stories-within-the-story complexity demanding. However, Megan’s surreal tales of sexual abuse, prostitution, and murder are shocking yet psychologically acute. They are true fables, containing verities that the normal world is unwilling to recognize.

The writing is often brilliant. The end, however, is frustratingly unresolved, and a subplot about the narrator’s attraction to a strange boy who’s possibly schizophrenic is exasperating in its inconclusiveness. Could Megan herself be only a story? Is Walde messing with our minds? The Candy Darlings is mesmerizing enough to send many readers back into the book to try to decode the truth.