Break­ing up with your BFF is a teen’s night­mare

Au­thor still shud­ders at her own awk­ward teen mo­ments En­ter­tain­ment

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - CULTURE - Sue Carter For Metro Canada

There’s an old sleep­over game played by kids, mostly young girls, based on a folk­loric myth that in­volves star­ing in a mir­ror and recit­ing “Bloody Mary” three times, in hopes of con­jur­ing a witch-like ap­pari­tion. (It was re­cently spoofed on CBC-TV’s hi­lar­i­ous Baroness Von Sketch, in­volv­ing a bar­tender and a thirsty patron.)

While the trick usu­ally ends in shrieks, and oc­ca­sional tears, the thrilling scare of Bloody Mary pro­vides a wel­come es­cape at an age when kids are just be­com­ing aware of dan­gers in the real world.

Ju­lia, the pre­teen pro­tag­o­nist of Claire Mes­sud’s new novel, The Burn­ing Girl, has watched enough TV news to un­der­stand that young women are often the vic­tims of ab­duc­tions, rape and mur­der, but she feels pro­tected in her re­la­tion­ship with Cassie, whom she’s been in­sep­a­ra­ble from since nurs­ery school. While Ju­lia is cau­tious and in­tro­spec­tive, and phys­i­cally solid, Cassie is dar­ing yet de­ceiv­ingly frail, the small­est girl in school, with white-blond hair and translu­cent skin.

But as the BFFs en­ter ado­les­cence, the two drift apart as Cassie aban­dons make-be­lieve for­est games for teen par­ties and boyfriends, leav­ing Ju­lia de­spon­dent and cling­ing to the friend­ship’s re­mains. When Cassie’s life takes a dan­ger­ous turn, Ju­lia re­mains a loyal de­fender, and ul­ti­mately her saviour.

Mes­sud ad­mits she has never left the mem­o­ries of her own ado­les­cence far be­hind. Even at 50, as an ac­claimed novelist and Har­vard pro­fes­sor, she can still re­call em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments from her early years.

“Maybe I’m let­ting go of some of it,” she says, “but the shame was still so present, all those years later. It’s deep.”

Mes­sud was born in Con­necti­cut, but as a youth lived in Aus­tralia for sev­eral years be­fore mov­ing to Toronto, and then back to Con­necti­cut again.

“I ex­pe­ri­enced child­hood as you land in a new place, you learn a new lan­guage. You learn the codes, what to do,” she says.

“I was al­ways run­ning to catch up to have the knowl­edge to fit in.”

As her own two chil­dren en­tered their teen years, Mes­sud found her­self re­liv­ing that po­tent age once again, and re­mem­ber­ing the great in­ten­sity of emo­tion at­tached to, in par­tic­u­lar, ado­les­cent girls’ friend­ships. “I have been wit­ness to those tra­vails all over again, and liv­ing through that time from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, and see­ing it with dis­tance,” she says. “It brought back all sorts of mem­o­ries of my own ex­pe­ri­ences.”

While re­mem­brances of ado­les­cent angst and drama formed much of her char­ac­ters’ be­hav­iour, it was her own child­hood lit­er­a­ture that in­spired her de­ci­sion to write The Burn­ing Girl as a fa­ble-like story about a fleet­ing mo­ment in a young girl’s life.

“There’s a cer­tain pas­sion that one has for chil­dren’s books and fa­bles and Greek myths. I feel the same way when I read them at 50 or 45, as I did when I was 10,” she says. “I wanted to try to write some­thing that you just ex­pe­ri­ence the way you ex­pe­ri­ence life, and the way you ex­pe­ri­ence a story when you’re a kid. A kids’ book for grownups.” Sue Carter is the edi­tor at Quill & Quire magazine.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.