by Wendy Phillips
Coteau Books, 2010
$14.95, 196 pp, ages 14+
In this work of fiction written in poetry format, four students tell their stories through the poems they write for English class. Many of the poems receive feedback from the teacher, and there are notes throughout the book between the teacher, the principal and the counselor. Miguel, who has recently moved to Canada, witnessed the murder of his family in his home village in Central America. Tricia, whose parents are divorced, feels that she does not belong anywhere—not with her Japanese father, and not with her mother, step-father and new step-sister. Kyle wants to be a musician, but his father is adamantly against this decision. Natalie, a new student, is filled with anger and self-hatred. She deals with her anger by cutting herself. This stems from the time she was raped by a friend of her father. Natalie finds satisfaction in destroying those around her and even convinces Tricia to start cutting herself. Kyle and Tricia are in love and their relationship is nearly destroyed by Natalie. Kyle is violently attacked and suffers tremendous physical injuries due to a nasty “game” instigated by Natalie. Miguel also falls under the spell of Natalie. Unfortunately, Natalie’s game has far more serious consequences for Miguel. Vulnerable people are easy targets for someone like Natalie. She even says, “it will be/like shooting/fish in a barrel.” Through the poems, Natalie, Miguel, Tricia and Kyle reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings, many of which are cries for help. We really need to be listening.
Fishtailing won the 2010 Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature.
Review by Julia Rank.
This review is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2011 issue.