The Key of Do

Patty Osborne

In my reading life I’ve been locked in YA (young adult) land ever since I found myself surrounded by a gaggle of teenage nieces at a family party. I tried the usual icebreakers about school and friends, but the conversation really got going when I asked them what they were reading. They were unanimous on the funniest book around: Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. I signed up for it at the library, but in the meantime another YA book arrived in the Geist mail: Alice, I Think by Susan Juby (Thistledown), the diary of fifteen-year-old Alice. She lives in Smithers, B.C., goes to an alternative school and once a week sees a counsellor who thinks Alice would fit in better if she demonstrated some “maturity indicators.” Alice is a keen observer of both herself and others, and thanks to her counselling sessions, she has all the jargon she needs to analyze everyone. She reports on the world with a naïve irony that has already made me and several friends, aged thirteen to thirty, laugh out loud.

In The Key of Do by Carole Fréchette (Red Deer Press; translated by Susan Ouriou), it is not the narrator who doesn’t fit in but the new kid on the block: the outlandish Dolorès, who dresses in bizarre outfits and has wild red hair “that can give you enough king-of-the-jungle confidence to stare down thirty-two students poised to devour you.” Véro, the narrator, is just as caught up in the conservative embrace of high school as the rest of her classmates, but as she gets to know and love Dolorès, she opens herself up to a bigger world, sheds some of the awful restraints of adolescence and admits to her true hopes and fears. There’s a nice little mystery here as well, when Dolorès and her father disappear and Véro and her friend Jean-Frédérick Kavanaugh (JFK for short) set out to find them. A short, easy, good read—my nieces will love it.

By the way, I did finally read Confessions of a Shopaholic (Dell). I found it amusing, if not (as the nieces had described it) hilarious. The book moves along briskly, from dunning letter to I-have-to-have-that moment, each consumer impulse accompanied by an astonishing array of rationalizations to charge just one more thing. In Confessions, unlike in real life, everything turns out fine in the end. No one goes bankrupt or drives away her loved ones, and our heroine is able to pay off her maxed-out credit cards just in time.

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