Sunday, May 11, 2014

My life as an alphabet by Barry Jonsberg


There were times when My life as an alphabet made me smile, other times when I cringed, still other times when I felt confused.  I guess that might mean this is a powerful book and perhaps it is.  Candice certainly is a character who will linger with me for a long time.

Oddly when I picked up this book, which has been short listed for our CBCA awards for 2014, I forgot to look closely at the cover so for the first third of the story I thought I was listening to a boy!  This is especially odd because Candice, our narrator, quotes her teacher Miss Bamford on page three and the teacher uses her name.  This book is a first person narrative so you will feel as though you are inside the narrator's head. (I don't know why but for my this was a boy.)

The whole class has been given a writing assignment.  Twenty six paragraphs (one for each letter of the alphabet) which is a recount of your life.  Candice ends up writing a whole book - not just a few paragraphs. As she recounts her life from A to Z we come to know a warm, quirky, loving girl who wants to heal the hurt in her family and save her best friend. Candice herself has some difficulties but at the same time she is well aware of her own limitations..  I will let Candice explain this herself via her letter to the casual teacher who is looking after the class while Miss Bamford is absent :

"Dear Miss Cowie
I am Candice Phee.  ... I have an ex-dysfunctional fish and a pernickety pencil case, with a divider so my pencils don't get mixed up.  I always have to sit in the same seat.  I don't talk to people until I feel comfortable with this.  This sometimes takes weeks.  In the meantime I communicate through notes like this one.  Some people think I am on some sort of spectrum, but I don't think I am.  It's just that I am different from most students."

Candice might be different - she loves to read the dictionary and books by Charles Dickens - but her view of the world also makes her quite insightful.  When Candice is paired up with the cool girl it is Candice who breaks down the barriers.  The speech Candice makes to the whole class about Jen Marshall is so poignant.

At home Candice has to deal with issues of her mum's depression, the cot death of her baby sister and her father's feelings of failure.  She also has to juggle a relationship with her Rich Uncle Brian and the new boy in the class named Douglas Benson From Another Dimension.

This book reminded me of The curious incident of the dog in the Night-time which is for an older audience and The dog that dumped on my doona by the same author.  I don't think My life as an alphabet will win the Younger Readers prize but I will be happy to recommend it to sensitive readers in our senior grades.

Here is a set of teacher notes.  Here is the author web site.

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