Your basic teen-attitude story in first person, present tense is now tediously commonplace. Nevertheless, there are occasional examples in which a sharp wit, a bitingly ironic voice, sheer quirkiness, and Edmonton – yes, Edmonton – carry the day. The Mitochondrial Curiosities of Marcel 1 to 19, the debut novel from Jocelyn Brown, is one of them.
Dree’s father, Leonard, has died suddenly, just in time to foul up his promise of a “special fund” to be dispensed on Dree’s 15th birthday. That money should have set her free from Edmonton; she has already “borrowed” from her mom’s credit card and her sister’s savings for a ticket to Toronto and registration for the Renegade Craft Fair. (The novel includes instructions for some of Dree’s renegade crafts – the Where-the-hell-are-you Hot Water Bottle Cover, Cushion of Good and Evil, and more.)
Between fending off her hostile, “perfect” sister, sweating over a crucial biology project, and making a new, craft-crazy friend (who later turns against her), Dree follows up the few clues her father left for her birthday Treasure Hunt. They lead her to uncover an incident that happened years ago at the Alberta Psychiatric Hospital – bringing Dree something very different than the birthday treasure she’d imagined.
This novel is about as strangely and intricately knotted as one of Dree’s craft creations, and as hilariously fascinating. The occasional murkiness of the plot is more than outweighed by Dree’s entertaining, disaffected voice, which has the energy of adolescent language at its most creative. “There she stood avec moi over dead fruit flies,” she says, recalling the moment she heard her father had died. “Talk about foreshadowing.” She has a flair for existentialism; her realization that “we are so so done” as a species leads not to hopelessness, however, but to an innovative theory she devises through her report on mitochondria: “Shopping killed sex.… To save the planet, we must bring back sex.” And “if you can’t choose sex, choose crafts.”