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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, written by Barry Jonsberg. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"I couldn't blame Rich Uncle Brian for being surprised. He had been trying for years to get me on board and I had always refused. I refused, not because I was being deliberately obstructive, but because boats make me sick. Literally. I do not have sea legs. I don't have sea arms. In fact, no part of my anatomy, from the smallest cell to the most major of organs, is sea anything."

There's not much to make the reader envy Candice Phee and her family life. In fact, she suggests that no one would consider the Phees 'front-runners for Australian Happy Family of the Year.' Indeed, they would not. So much has happened to make them unhappy! The loss of a child, cancer, deep depression, and a feud between brothers.

In terms of herself, Candice is one of those young girls who just doesn't seem to find a fit with friends at school; she is a loner and not upset about it. She sees the world in the most literal way possible, is full of heart and unconcerned that people find her weird:

"There are several girls (and boys) in my school who call me Essen. It's a phonetic representation of S.N., which is short for Special Needs. Many people think I have learning disabilities, but they are mistaken. I once wrote a note to Jen saying that everyone is special and everyone has needs, so her insult (because that's what she intended it to be) is wide of the mark. She simply glared at me, chewed her gum, and ripped the note into little pieces. If I have to be honest - and I do have to be honest, it's something I can't avoid - then I must confess that Jen Marshall is not the sharpest tool in the shed, as Rich Uncle Brian might say. But that's not her fault. And she is very, very pretty. So I like her. Then again, I like nearly everyone, as my Mom often points out."

We are on page 4, and I already LOVE Candice - and you will, too.

An assignment from her English teacher precipitates Candice's sharing of her own story with her readers. Using the alphabet, she is to write one paragraph for each letter to tell about something that has happened in the past.

"So, I sat in my chair and thought about the assignment. A paragraph for each letter, and each paragraph portraying something about my life. Some of the letters would be difficult. Q, for example. And X. I have never had an X-ray, so that's not in the equation. But I decided I would worry about that later. A was obviously where I should start.
But the more I thought, the trickier the assignment appeared. I wanted to tell Miss Bamford about my life, but a paragraph for each letter just wouldn't do it. And that's when I got my great idea.
I wouldn't do one paragraph. I would do multiple paragraphs for each letter."

Of course, she would. Lucky we are to be able to read each and every one of them. There is so much she has to tell us about her world, her wishes, her attempts to help all those who mean so much to her.
Candice does have one friend, Douglas Benson from Another Dimension. Douglas wants to find his way back to his real parents. He says he is presently living with 'facsimiles', and talks constantly about climbing a tree, jumping from it, and landing back where he belongs. Candice is concerned with his focus on such a thing. She wants him to be careful; but, she's willing to help if she can, and if it will make him happy.

Her family is another story. She sets out to alter the difficulties that plague them. She is sure that she can help, and she does her best to do so. She, herself, is still greatly affected by her little sister's death from SIDS, while realizing that it really had nothing to do with her. Her parents are still struggling to cope. Her father and his brother are unable to sort out a disagreement that has left Candice's father spending all of his time with computers in his shop, and unwilling to have any sort of discussion with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian.

The descriptive language has me wanting to share it ALL with you. I will not. I will tell you that your life will be better for knowing Candice, her family and friends. Barry Jonsberg has created a book that  could be depressing for many good reasons. It is not. It is insightful, honest, hilarious, and hopeful.

I will let Candice have the last word:

"I still had the finer details to arrange, but everything was coming together nicely. It is true that family harmony had not been restored by my first plan. Indeed, throwing myself into the ocean had only made our problems worse. But Candice Phee does not give up.
This time, I thought, this time."

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