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Wesseler, Marlis. South of the border.

WESSELER, Marlis. South of the border. Coteau. 217p. c2004. 1-55050-298-0. $17.95. SA

In 1972, Canadian teens and best friends Arlene and Sheila are traveling in Mexico. While the two college students have stayed together for some weeks--sometimes joining up with other foreign travelers and sometimes roughing it alone on beaches and in small towns--Sheila has proved to be the more daring of the two. In the village of Palenque, she leaves Arlene behind while she takes a camping trip with a young man she's recently met. The girls plan to reconnect, with Arlene staying over the while in Palenque. Then the police arrive at Arlene's hotel with the horrible news that Sheila has been killed by a snake in the jungle; her body was so decomposed that it has already been cremated; it's up to Arlene to pick up her friend's backpack and remains at the police station and inform Sheila's parents. Alone in a way she's never imagined, let alone experienced, Arlene begins to deal with the practical necessities with which she is now presented. Overcome by emotion and sunstroke, she herself becomes quite ill and is cared for by the hotelkeeper's family. Everyone is shocked when Sheila returns to Palenque and a case of mistaken identity is revealed.

The evocation of this period in American youth culture is sound: Arlene and Sheila hook up with kids as apparently simple and carefree as themselves. Arlene's emotional roller coaster, too, is cogently handled. However, the overarching structure of this novel has several gaps and flaws. The questions about the girl who died in the jungle seem to belong to Arlene and Sheila's parents, even as the friends mature. The final section jumps ahead to Arlene in middle age, at a time when Sheila really has died. Arlene seems to be a thinker--even as a teen she quotes Kant appropriately--but she seems also to be doomed to companionship that always pulls up short of reasoned responses to circumstances. Francisca Goldsmith, Libn., Berkeley PL, Berkeley, CA

S--Recommended for senior high school students.

A--Recommended for advanced students and adults. This code will help librarians and teachers working in high schools where there are honors and advanced placement students. This also will help extend KLIATT's usefulness in public libraries.
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Author:Goldsmith, Francisca
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2005
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