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The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy

by Jill MacLean

Prinny Murphy is used to life being tough. Her mother is an alcoholic, school bullies hound her every move, and she struggles with reading the simplest books. At age 12, she seems to be on a permanent downswing until she finds poetry and courage within the pages of a free verse novel called Make Lemonade.

Jill MacLean first introduced us to Prinny in 2008’s The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, in which the girl with the straggly ponytail stood out. In taking readers back to Ratchet, Newfoundland, and the stark realism of its Atlantic setting, MacLean does not disappoint.

This is a darker, more challenging novel, with thematic undercurrents of alcoholism, abuse, bullying, and poverty. It’s not all bleak, however. Unlike Travis in the first book, Prinny is native to this landscape, and her powerful connection to it is evidenced in her every thought. Prinny’s engaging first-person narration, sprinkled with the inflections and cadences of the local dialect, invigorates and enriches the authentic feel of the book and adds to its lyricism. “If people are mean to me,” Prinny says, “I can be lippy as a Whiskey Jack. But when they’re nice, I’m right fuddled.”

Young readers will immediately respond to the fact that Prinny is an ordinary girl with some extraordinary problems. She is by turns anxious, self-deprecating, and defiant, and she is wholly believable throughout. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, and she finds it difficult to reach out to the people who matter most.

MacLean’s skilful writing avoids the pitfalls of hackneyed stereotypes and simple solutions. Her beer-swilling mean girls are rough around the edges, even sinister, and they don’t reform. They pursue Prinny with relentless glee, resulting in a truly suspenseful scene late in the novel. In addition, Hud, the thug from the previous novel, makes a few significant appearances here. This time, however, MacLean provides a more telling glimpse into his troubled home life.

Beautifully layered and sensitively written, Prinny’s story will garner MacLean – and the characters of Ratchet – yet more fans. Let’s hope there is a return visit soon.