Jonsberg is an Englishman living in Australia; he is the successful author of The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne (reviewed in paperback in this issue). This second book has a lot in common with a standup comedy routine, with each page filled with humorous images and one-liners. Calma is the narrator. She is brilliant and a know-it-all (hence the title). She lives alone with her hardworking mother; she has one friend, Vanessa. One day at the local convenience store, when she is buying some feminine products, she meets a cute new boy at the cash register. This is enough for her to apply for a part-time job at the same place. Her father decides to come back into her life, but she holds him off. She discovers her mother is leading a secret life; she is afraid for Vanessa's safety when she sees bruises and cuts on her bodythat's the basic plot. But it's the almost over-the-top humor that makes this story what it is. Here are some samples"It felt like I was confronting a charging rhinoceros with a koala for backup." About wearing contact lenses: "Every time I blinked I felt like confessing to crimes I hadn't committed." The language is occasionally earthy, with obscenities here and there, which might limit the book for middle school libraries, but it certainly would be fine for YA sections in public libraries. Calma is exasperating but original. Her comments about soccer (after watching one game on TV to impress Jason) are impressive"Getting injured at soccer is drastic, if short-lived. I mean, these guys react as if they're in the last stages of disembowelment, but within moments they are running around again, locks flowing and chiseled features intact." Thehumor and Calma herself tend to hold the reader at arm's lengthshe is difficult to get close to and care about. Still, this book will be amusing for many readers.
Calma is sixteen and expresses her caustic, me-only attitude through her sarcastic narration. Her strident persona developed during her parents' long-ago divorce and is exacerbated by her father's reappearance. Calma refuses to see her father, and for additional avoidance, begins employment at a grocery where she bonds with a female customer, gains a boyfriend, and brazenly thwarts a robbery. Dating preparation results in a disliked haircut, remedied by shaving her head and claiming leukemia research participation. After discovering her mother dating her best friend's father, whom she thinks is an abusive criminal, her subsequent vitriolic accusations create her alienation, forcing the realization that others also matter. Calma states that she is an unreliable narrator and uses various formats, such as imaginary screenplays, to relay the story, which was originally published in Australia in 2005. Its structure is sophisticated, but techniques are defined and explained. Her unending sarcasm is tempered by usually being hilarious and dead-on accurate, and her audacity and genuine belief in her perceptions and actions create sympathy if not always likability. Two endings appear: The imaginary first matches Calma's perceptions; the second portrays reality. Calma herself had shunned her father, but he returns because of terminal leukemia, the favored customer turns out to be his wife, and Calma's mother's boyfriend is honorable and assisting his self-mutilating daughter. Calma's views and the novel's intriguing, unusual structure will appeal to literary-minded females.
The novel's complicated structure obscures its minimal plot. Calma hurts others physically and emotionally, and because she acts on impulse, her character is largely unrealistic. Her gorgeous boyfriend's attraction seems improbable, as does her best friend being dragged along with them without question. The neat ending shows Calma remaining cavalier, but with an opposite-yet still skewed-perspective, believing that fixing her mistakes will be easy. It's all worth overlooking, however, just for Calma's over-the-top narration.
Gr 7 Up
Calma Harrison, 16, is a bright, eccentric loner who loves English lit and brightly colored eyeglasses. Her only friend is Vanessa, a hippie so mellow she's nearly in a coma. Calma and her mother communicate via notes on the refrigerator. Then, her long-absent father appears in their tropical Australian town, desperate to speak to her, and her mother starts sneaking around at night, causing Calma to fear that her parents may be dating. When Vanessa becomes even more withdrawn and Calma notices cuts and scratches on her friend's body, she starts sleuthing. For the first quarter of the book, Jonsberg lays the teenage sarcasm on so thickly it backfires, and Calma, despite her raw language, sounds cutesy instead of edgy. Fortunately, she's more and more engaging as the plot progresses, and her depth and sincerity become obvious. Moreover, her jaunty narration creates a farcical mood that keeps the increasingly heavy subject matter from descending into melodrama. The supporting characters are drawn in broad strokes and seem present just to people the novel's abundant, and sometimes extraneous, subplots. Calma's sweet courtship with Jason, a gorgeous, disarming soccer freak, is an exception, but, with so many plot threads to weave together, the author leaves their relationship unexplored.
Johanna LewisCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From Australia comes another great piece of YA literature with wit, zing and depth. Sixteen-year-old Calma lives for literature and finally has a good English teacher, but problems with love, family and friends tear her away from her passion. She instantly falls for handsome Jason, but her best friend is clearly suffering from some hidden anxiety, her despised, long-gone father has suddenly returned and her always-working mom seems to be involved with a mysterious man. Even as Calma constantly missteps, she remains confident in her superior intelligence, sure she can ferret out what's really going on. Jonsberg inserts a leitmotif about literature, with poetry and Calma's warning about the unreliable narrator. Plenty of on-the-spot humor mingles with looming tragedy, as Calma simply can't imagine that she might be making some mistakes. Readers will laugh, cry and, without trying, learn. (Fiction. YA)
“From Australia comes another great piece of YA literature with wit, zing and depth. Plenty of on-the-spot humor. . . . Readers will laugh, cry and, without trying, learn.”–Kirkus Reviews
“The book’s greatest strength is its deftly drawn characters. . . . YA readers will be attracted to the humor, as well as the mystery and drama constantly surrounding Calma’s life.”–Booklist