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Waiting to Dive

by Karen Rivers

Graveyard Girl (stories)

by Wendy A. Lewis

Put your ear to the ground. Hear a low rumble? The new children’s writers are afoot. All across the country they are taking courses, forming writers’ groups, joining organizations, turning up at blue pencil cafés. Perusing the current pile of new books, it looks to me as though all this activity has resulted in a critical mass – an accumulation of new writers, the best of them very good indeed.

Wendy A. Lewis hits the ground running with her first book, Graveyard Girl (stories). The parentheses on the stylishly designed cover are significant because these stories are linked by an ingenious device. From a pair of framing stories we learn that in 1982 a group of high school students re-enacted the royal wedding of Charles and Diana. We look at a photo of that re-enactment and then zoom in on five individual characters to discover their stories, from the perspective of one year later. Then we jump 10 years to 1993 and hear five more stories, those of the little kids who played the parts of flower girls and ring bearers at the theatrical event, now themselves teenagers.

The stories stand alone but as we accumulate information about the characters we also construct one large story, a web of relationships, misunderstandings, and secrets revealed. This device involves a lot of stage-managing on Lewis’s part, maintaining the linear shape of each individual story, while building a more “point and click” interactive superstory. I can’t imagine anyone reading this collection without doing a lot of flipping back and forth. “Hang on, was she one of the cheerleaders?” “You mean that Tish became a filmmaker? Of course.” But it works beautifully. Part of the success is the slightly voyeuristic appeal of finding out what happened to people and what they look like through the filter of someone else’s perception. Reading Graveyard Girl is a bit like watching The Big Chill or the Seven Up documentaries.

Lewis is also, simply, a very good writer. Her style is understated and unobtrusive. She captures the flavour of teen speech with the occasional “like, whatever” but more often cuts through to something more authentic. She treats the matter of adolescence with respect and gives her characters and readers room. For example, in the penultimate story Kevin finds out that his older sister has cancer. They have a moment together out in the snowy yard. A brief exchange of dialogue, then a piece of action. “Then we threw back our heads and howled at the stars.” End of scene. No summing up or sound bite needed.

Part of the authenticity of the collection lies in a refreshing avoidance of young adult cliché. Jewel, glamorous teenage girl, gets pregnant. Jake, her boyfriend, the school bad boy, marries her. Recipe for disaster, right? But what if that’s not the story? What if Jake straightens up? What if motherhood is exactly what Jewel has always wanted? What about the originality of a teen story with a happy ending? Mind you, there is the slightest of hints in one of the other stories that rough waters lie ahead for Jewel and Jake. These are years full of pain, rejection, confusion, and loneliness. What Lewis simultaneously captures is that these are also years of revelation, joy, exuberance, and the deep support of friends. This is an impressive debut.

Waiting to Dive is B.C. writer Karen Rivers’ second novel. The blurb on this one really hooked me. The world of competitive sports is terra incognita for me. I choke up at the medal ceremonies of the Olympics as much as the next person but I just don’t get it, the passion that would make you throw yourself into a cold swimming pool at six in the morning day after day after day. What the back cover of this novel seemed to promise was that I would get inside this kind of person, that I would find out what it was like to be an athlete, how it would feel in my body. I wasn’t disappointed.

Carly is a diver. Out of the water she is a typical 10-year-old kid with sibling problems and an attitude about school. On the diving board she is somebody else, a person with focus and imagination, who has to achieve a kind of zen-like convergence of thought and movement. Rivers is very good at describing this state and making me believe in Carly. Books about very talented children are often show-off books. This one isn’t.

Rivers’ first novel, Dream Water, is for young adults and she uses a similar YA approach in her treatment of Carly in this children’s book. The point of view is first person, the style is stream of consciousness, and the tone is that of a sardonic disenchanted teen. The entire first chapter focuses on Carly standing on a rock waiting to dive, then diving. We hear her thoughts on her teacher, seaweed, mosquito bites, her stepfather, anger, and the colour purple. Throughout the plot of the book we consistently stay in the world inside Carly’s head.

The plot involves three strains. In the first Carly joins a diving club and eventually wins her first meet, a rather straightforward story of overcoming obstacles and succeeding. The second is the tragedy of Carly’s friend Montana, who breaks her back in a diving accident and is gradually rehabilitated. The third is Carly’s coming to terms with the death, some years before, of her father and her gradual acceptance of her new stepfather.

These three strains pull in rather different directions and they didn’t quite cohere for me. The issue may be one of voice. At times Carly sounds very young: “The rock is sandstone, which, as I’m sure you know, is sand that has baked in the sun for an incredibly long time, like a thousand years or a hundred.” At other times she has a world-weary tone that is much older: “My mom only lets me paint my toes, because she says I am too young to paint my fingers. Whatever. Like if I painted my fingers, people might mistake me for a grown-up and I would have to stop going to school and get a job and have babies and get married a few times. Forget it.” Carly also has a style that is crowded with adjectives and adverbs. She feels a “teeny smidgen nervous” or “a tiny teeny bit better.” On the up side, things are “pretty fantastically happy” or “pretty spectacularly beautiful.” She often addresses the reader directly (“You know what I mean” and “Listen up”) and she loves similes. If we took a break more often for dialogue, for someone else’s voice, this would be delightful. As it stands, it is a bit claustrophobic.

At the conclusion of the book, when Carly begins to accept her new father and her step-siblings, and to set aside her judgmental attitudes, I was not entirely convinced. I could not see that she had grown and changed. On the other hand, when she won her diving competition, I was entirely convinced that she had grown and achieved mastery. The extraordinary Carly I felt I knew. The ordinary one was a bit more opaque.


Reviewer: Sarah Ellis

Publisher: Orca Books


Price: $8.95

Page Count: 106 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55143-159-9

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 2000-12

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction

Age Range: ages 8–11

Reviewer: Sarah Ellis

Publisher: Red Deer Press


Price: $9.95

Page Count: 190 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88995-202-7

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: December 1, 2000

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction

Age Range: ages 13+