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Thursday, May 18, 2017

When My Sister Started Kissing, by Helen Frost. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"Do you think Dad loved us like that
when we were babies?

Probably. Yes. Of course he did.

And Mom?

Her, too.

You know that poem Dad's been

It's summer, ten years after their mother's death by lightning at the very same lake they have loved all their lives. The sisters are here again; this time, everything's different. Their summers have always been spent with their father and their lake friends. This year, their heavily pregnant stepmother is with them, and Abigail has transformed into a girl interested in boys - two of them!

Abigail - now calling herself Abi - is thirteen and Claire, at 10, is not keen on the changes surrounding her. She would prefer that everything stay the same. Their story is told in three voices: Abi, Claire, and the lake. Helen Frost's ability to fashion brilliant family stories in poetic form is evident on every page. There is no scarcity of uncertainty; it is handled with care and compassion for both girls as they navigate the many challenges they face. The lake's voice adds a sense of calm to the emotional upheaval felt by each sister.

Growing up is hard. Everyone involved is coming to grips with this new family dynamic. The family as they have known it until now will never be the same. But, isn't that what happens for most families ? We grow and change. It is important that those changes be acknowledged and discussed.

Helen Frost ably navigates the stormy waters from personal and powerful perspectives through her adept poetry. She manages to give authentic voice to each character, showing readers a willingness to explore their challenges. Using variety in poetic form for each voice, she builds authentic characters. It is a compelling story, told beautifully.

"As for Abi - when I saw her start to change so much,
I missed her. I felt like she was leaving me behind
But it's interesting to see where she's going, and if I
ever head down that path, I won't be traveling blind."

Notes on Form is advantageous, as is the addition of a list of favorite poems used for some included lines.

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