by Wendy Phillips

Teen violence, bullying and the burning quest to fit in are presented in the poems of four unforgettable high school students: Natalie, Kyle, Tricia, Miguel. Their stories unfold in this explosive new book told in free verse. A story of teen angst like no other, it is based on fictional characters but is rooted in the realities of the teen experience.


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Teen violence, bullying and the burning quest to fit in are presented in the poems of four unforgettable high school students: Natalie, Kyle, Tricia, Miguel. Their stories unfold in this explosive new book told in free verse. A story of teen angst like no other, it is based on fictional characters but is rooted in the realities of the teen experience.

When Natalie moves to a new high school she befriends three unwitting victims into her spider-web of manipulations, lies and deceit. Through the poetry and assignments of an English class we glimpse the world of the four teens. Natalie, whose alcoholic parents, years of neglect and ultimate rape by her father's friend has shaped her into a cruel and manipulative teen; Tricia, dealing with her blended family, is drawn into Natalies' forbidden world of partying and rebellion; Kyle, a would-be musician is in love with Tricia and Miguel who lusts for Natalie while hiding the secrets of his family.

The story weaves us through their poetry, their lives and culminates at a party where the four lives fishtail out of control. English class will never be the same.

Editorial Reviews

CM Magazine
"The beauty of the free verse style is that readers are never overwhelmed with narrative description or ongoing dialogue...It works beautifully and gives a refreshing new perspective about the cruel games sometimes played in high schools and the resulting teenage angst, despair and emotional trauma. Fishtailing is a novel worth having in any collection – for the poignant characterization, for the gripping plot, for the ingenuity of the writing. Highly Recommended."
Resource Links
"An eloquent story with an intriguing format...This book is recommended for literature study groups, poetry lovers, and for the study of relationships between friends and among parents and children."
Library Media Connection
"The novel leaves readers gripping their seats and begging for more...Reluctant readers will like the quick flow of the novel, and poetry lovers will enjoy the verse form. Students will be finishing the book the day they begin. Recommended."
What If? Magazine
"While the stories are ordinary enough, they become far more intriguing as the reader is forced to discover them in the intricate poems written by the four teenagers...An original read...[and] undeniably worth the extra energy it takes when compared to the average teen novel."
"The free-verse voices are all nicely handled; the teens are engaging…characters; and Natalie's machinations are compelling."
Canadian Children's Book News
"The poems are excellent and the author beautifully captures the complex emotions of the teens...Fast paced, and often heartbreaking, this novel offers the reader much to discuss and think about long after reading."
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Four teenagers are brought together in a high school English class. Natalie, a transfer from another high school, is the newest addition to the mix. She is deeply troubled. She is a cutter, a bulimic, an incest survivor, and a daughter neglected by a promiscuous mother. This school is her last chance before she is shipped off to an alternative high school. She singles out for friendship good girl Trish, who is struggling with her identity as an half Asian in an Anglo household. Trish falls for Kyle, a boy with aspirations and talent to be a musician, but whose father's ambitions for him are more earthbound, a career as a mechanic. The fourth person in this tragic quartet is Miguel, orphaned by war in his South American homeland, haunted by the deaths of his parents. The four young people express their unique voices and perspectives in poetry, brilliant and soul-searing verse handed into an English teacher who reads their words and misses the messages. The teacher refers the class work to the school counselor who offers career guidance or disciplinary warnings, but not the analysis or solutions that the young writers need. Clearly, these case-hardened educators fail their young charges by missing the messages. It is obvious from the beginning of the book that no good end will come to the young poets, and the ultimate death of one, the physical destruction of another, and the revelations of the final two make for a heartrending conclusion to a truly incomparable book. This is subject matter for mature teens, but it is so movingly written and so flawlessly rendered that it should be on many end-of-the-year award lists. Canadian author Phillips has achieved an amazing and revealing work of tragedy that will resonate with many young adult readers. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
VOYA - C. J. Bott
Told through the voices of four high school students, a strictly structured English teacher, and a patient counselor, this novel in verse takes the reader into the side of high school that has little to do with course work. New student Natalie, a damaged and damaging manipulator, works her ugliness on everyone. She recruits the lonely Tricia and teaches her how to self-injure through cutting and bulimia. Miguel, trying to distance himself from the bloody memories of the deaths of his family during a political war in Central America, falls in love with what he thinks she is. Kyle loves Tricia, but Natalie forces Tricia to share him. With the author's help, each student's verse improves, while revealing to the reader the most intimate and fragile thoughts. The poetry is touching, painful, and jarring as Phillips presents their stories through their hesitations, hopes, pains, and fears. The plot constantly twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing what will happen next. Reviewer: C. J. Bott
Kirkus Reviews
Four teens fall in and out of longing, love and violence: Kyle, the motorcycle-riding musician, Miguel, the unpredictable poet haunted by a violent past, Natalie, a mischief-making cutter, and Tricia, a biracial teen uncomfortable in her own skin. Told in minimalist free-verse vignettes, their lives crash, simmer and smolder together in the science lab, on the soccer field, at the coffee house and more. Phillips adeptly spins complex, provocative, sharp-imaged lines of poetry in this first novel that is mostly told by the four main characters with some well-intended but pandering commentary by the school faculty, including their English teacher, who assigned them to write many of the poems for class. Though fully realized in structure, tonality and word choice, several poems lack voice, particularly those written by male characters. Readers can identify the speaker because the author has assigned names to stanzas, but any sense that the characters could be living, breathing, talking teenagers stops there. However, although much of the climatic action happens offstage, there are enough razor blades, lust, jealousy and revenge to keep readers breathlessly hooked until the very end. (Verse novel. 14 & up)

Product Details

Coteau Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

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