Fishtailing by Wendy Phillips

9:00 AM

Title: Fishtailing
Author: Wendy Phillips
Release Date: February 14, 2010 (trade paperback)
Publisher: Coteau Books
Pages: 200
Source: Borrowed from Library 

Overall: 3 Stars 

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.

My Thoughts:
So I kind of wished I had read the plot description before I began reading this novel. I mean, I did read the one on the back of the novel, but it's in a lot less detail so as soon as I began reading, I had no idea what was really going on since I knew next to nothing about the characters except their names and that they attended high school. That's not exactly much to go on and for me, whenever I start reading a book, I like to have some sort of basis for what I'm getting myself into... but nonetheless, I did finally learn more about the character's backgrounds as I read and everything became so much clearer!

Fishtailing is definitely a novel I would consider a bit out of my element. Told completely in free verse, it centers around the lives of four teenagers- Natalie, Tricia, Kyle, and Miguel- and how their lives intersect, beginning with how they share an English class together. Depressed Tricia is torn by her mixed heritage and finds herself drawn into Natalie's dark world as she becomes closer friends with the new girl. The always quiet Miguel harbours a dark secret from his past but find himself attracted to Natalie. And then the most normal of the bunch, Kyle, has a major crush on Tricia but finds himself at odds about his future and following his dreams to become a musician.

It only took me just over an hour to read Fishtailing, but I was surprised by how dark the novel turned out to be. In so few words, Wendy Phillips writes a gritty tale of four teens struggling to deal with life and their circumstances. To put it mildly, they're very troubled but no one is there to really help them. I'll only exclude Kyle because I saw him rather as a beacon of hope... and honestly, if it weren't for him lightening up the moments with his strong feelings for Tricia, it could have been an outright depressing read.  The adults, particularly their English teacher, just have no idea how these teens are really feeling.

It was rather difficult for me to think of how to rate the novel since the way it's written is different than what I'm used to, so it's not like I have something to compare it by to other novels told in free verse style, but I think three stars is still the safe bet since I did find myself liking it.

If you think you're up for a quick read that takes you out of your reading comfort zone, I think Fishtailing will be right up your alley. Once you get into the style of writing, you won't set the book down, transfixed by this hard-hitting tale set in Western Canada that Wendy Phillips seems to effortlessly weave. 

*Fishtailing is nominated for the 2011 White Pine Award and and is the 2010 recipient of the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Literature, English text.*

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  1. Ooh, it sounds very dark :( I tend to stay away from dark books, but I do feel like I need to push my comfort zones somewhat. So I'll keep it in mind.

    Thanks for the review!

  2. From the cover I thought it would be about something else completely. I've only read a few verse books before so might pick this one up if I see it at the library.