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The Mysterious Adventures of Pauline Bovary

by Edeet Ravel

The New York Times’s recent declaration that trends are the new trend left me worried. How can I hold up my head as a Q&Q columnist if I don’t start recognizing some trends? Approaching despair, I was saved when the first two books in Pauline btw, Edeet Ravel’s new YA series, fell into my lap. Before I had even cracked the cover of the first one, The Thrilling Life of Pauline de Lammermoor, I spotted a trend. Ravel is an established award-winning adult writer, and like such other adult writers as Alan Cumyn, Joan Givner, and Shyam Selvadurai, Ravel has recently turned her attention and skills to the matter of childhood. Since a trend isn’t a trend until it is named, I’m going to call this “dip-back.” You read it here first.

As if that weren’t enough of a gift, I was barely into Chapter 3 of Thrilling Life when I spotted yet another trend. Heroine Pauline, whiling away the summer writing a novel (according to the precepts set down in her bible, Zane Burbank III’s You Too Can Write a Great Novel!), reveals that she lives in a small town, Ghent, Ontario, with one mall and at least 20 very good restaurants. “Ghent!” I rejoiced. “It is going to be Smithers, B.C., all over again!” The witty, disconsolate musings of a bright, articulate young teenage girl who longs for a rich life of fame, tragedy, and unembarrassing parents and does so in a smalltown setting? Pauline, meet Susan Juby’s Alice.

Secure in the knowledge that I had nailed down two trends, I proceeded to simply enjoy the book. This is a funny one. It will leave you, as Pauline might say, ROFL. (Those of you who don’t keep up with trends the way I do might not know that that is a texting abbreviation for “rolling on the floor laughing.”)

The first funny thing is a running adjective joke. Pauline, like many young writers, is drunk with her discovery of the thesaurus. Thus her mother speaks with a “grumpy, peevish and nihilistic” voice. Damp laundry left in the washing machine smells “stinking, putrid, vomity and ignoble.” Pauline has an off-centre take on the world. Her narrative is rich with delightful one-liners and not one of them is generic. “If I lived in a place called the Virgin Islands I would very simply kill myself.” She’s honest and self-aware. “I felt a bit less angry but I didn’t want to show it. It’s embarrassing if you feel less angry too fast, after you’ve really made a point of feeling mad.” The best vignettes are the weirdest. Pauline’s Grandma invents a birthday party game called “Mother, the Witch Stole Monday” that is so peculiar, it can only have come from real life. You just can’t make this stuff up.

I’d pretty much go anywhere with Pauline. It is worth the whole book to find out why she kissed the not-boyfriend Yoshi in the storage room of the food bank where they were both volunteering. Pauline is funny and generous, crazy about words, clear-eyed (except when she’s totally off-base), loyal to her friends, and tolerant of her parents.

Lots happens in this book. Pauline acts out her version of the opera Lucia de Lammermoor for a school project. Pauline and Yoshi are humiliated at a party. Pauline is betrayed by her best friend. Mom’s boyfriend Griswold falls off a horse. There are relationships and happenings, but there isn’t really a plot. This wasn’t a problem for me but it might be for some readers. A final incident, in which a next-door neighbour commits suicide, felt out of tune with the rest of the book. The real story, and it is very understated, is that Pauline, who pretends to be fine with her parents’ divorce, is having a tough time. By the end of the book she feels better – not perfect, but better.

Thrilling Life, like the serialized melodrama it pretends to copy, ends with three cliffhanger questions, and indeed there is already a sequel in the pipeline. In The Mysterious Adventures of Pauline Bovary, our heroine adds a book of quotations to her writer’s toolkit and we hear a lot from Milton, Blake, and Flaubert. Mom continues to date men with funny names, and Pauline enters Grade 8 and learns the meaning of “rake” when she makes a really bad choice between sweet devoted Yoshi and Ryan, a cool older guy from Grade 10. Her company is as enjoyable as ever, and this time the story has fewer flashbacks, less explanation, and more shape. These two books are cheeky, stylish, and, most of all, intelligent. In this trendspotter’s opinion, they are also very good VFM (value for money).