written by Deborah Ellis
Pajama Press, 2011
978-0-9869495-3-1 (hc) $19.95
978-0-9869495-0-0 (pb) $14.95
for Grades 8 to 10
Fiction | Friendship | Betrayal | Murder | Insecurity | Loneliness | Small Towns
At first glance, Deborah Ellis's YA novel, True Blue, appears to be a departure from her middle school novels featuring resourceful, optimistic children tackling obstacles like homelessness, disease, violence and exploitation in developing countries (e.g., The Breadwinner trilogy). The novel remains, however, recognizably Ellis. The 16-year-old narrator, Jess, faces tremendous obstacles: the incarceration of her best friend for murder, a dysfunctional family and inner turmoil--the fundamental conflict of the story. The issue is a universal one: loyalty in friendship. While we feel sympathy for Jess, she is unlikeable, exhibiting our worst behaviours as friends: jealousy, insecurity, vindictiveness, fearfulness and desire to control. Our frustration with her inaction and hope that she will eventually do the right thing propels the novel, since the "mystery" is simply a withholding of information by the narrator about what she knows at the start of the book.
The novel's weaknesses (which mainly involve forms of exposition that fail to ring true to the narrator's apathetic, evasive nature) recede in light of the strengths. Jess's relationship with her mentally unstable mother is beautifully nuanced, revealing the faults and reasonableness of both parties without violating Jess's perspective. Ellis creates complex adult characters as seen through the narrator's critical perspective, a difficult challenge that many YA novelists fail, or do not attempt, to achieve. Finally, Ellis's bold ending causes the message to resonate with the reader long afterwards.
True Blue is suitable for a novel study, a unit on peer and parental pressures or independent reading.
Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.