Thirteen-year-old Katie Bean has much to process. She and her mother have moved to a “sleepy prairie town,” she is the target of school bullies, and “Her body [is] going through weird changes.” Her mother is preoccupied with her unusual new job – “drawing up plans for Constantine’s lavender farm” – and thus has zero time for Katie. These issues are difficult enough, but what’s truly devastating is the fact that Katie’s eccentric musician-composer father recently died “in his sleep,” and Katie’s grieving in solitude. Her only friend is her father’s piano. There is, however, a strange new development in her young life: the voice that “[keeps] shushing her.” Is she going crazy?
So begins the juvenile novel, Katie Be Quiet, the second book by Lethbridge writer Darcy Tamayose. The “new kid not fitting in” scenario is common among books for young readers, but Tamayose’s book stands out for its complex mystery, its intermingling of youth and adult characters – including a rude man from Paris and his poodle-doting wife who’ve come to manage the lavender farm’s tea room – and for an ending this reader did not see coming. It also contains a sad but intriguing back story, which is necessary to explain motivation.
As the story unfolds, Katie’s grade eight classroom is given a Language Arts assignment to write about something old, and the main character and her new friends Amanda and Evan’s disparate reports all, coincidentally, include the subject of tea. Botany; cold file police reports; lasagna; paintings; an opera; lavender; a sticking piano key; unexplainable voices, visions, and messages; and a stuttering old woman, Charlotte Winston – who invites Katie to practice on her piano for a forthcoming recital – are among the recurring elements in this quirky mystery.
I most enjoyed the comic character, Evan Noble, who realistically engages in the kind of teasing flirtation thirteen-year-old boys excel at. Geeky Evan perpetually walks around with “huge stacks of books,” and has a habit of orally spelling words, like “paraphernalia” and “onomatopoeia” for the unimpressed girls.
I also appreciated how the author dealt with the prickly mother-daughter relationship. When the sparring pair finally discuss the death of John Bean, husband and father, Katie’s mother admits that she’s been lost, and Katie says, “Me too … Wanna be lost together …?”
I expect that Tamayose had great fun naming her characters. In her acknowledgments she writes that “Many young people were interested in this story and gave some helpful advice during different stages of the writing process,” and I’m wondering if her young collaborators did not have a hand in creating the riotous names Constantine Glitch, Eugene Snycer, Opal Witherspoon, Mordecai W. Nightshade, and Estelle Michelle.
Tamayose ‘s first book, Odori, was released in 2007. Katie Be Quiet, published by Coteau Books, has no doubt been delighting young readers since its release in 2008.
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