INSIDE OUT GIRL by Tish Cohen (HarperCollins) 317 pages, $15.95 paper. Rating: NNN
Tish Cohen is more a popular writer than a capital-L literary one. But she writes with a ton of energy and creates very vivid characters.
Inside Out Girl's centrepiece, Olivia Bean, is a brilliant, rat-obsessed, learning-disabled 10-year-old, the kind who can let loose a piercing scream when faced with frustration. Uncommonly beautiful, with a thatch of thick red hair and silvery eyes, she's bullied at school but loved by her father, the widower Len.
Rachel is the editor of a parenting magazine in financial trouble and having parenting issues of her own with 12-year-old wannabe skateboarder Dustin and hormonal Janie, who's two years older. Adding to Rachel's woes is a 20-year-old secret that still haunts her.
When Rachel and Len meet and begin to fall in love, the prospect of blending their families creates all kinds of tensions. Cohen navigates these waters with tremendous skill and keeps us connected to always-believable characters.
Janie, who's just realizing she might be a lesbian, has an entirely credible crush on the girl next door. Dustin is a pain in the ass, but a lovable one. And Olivia is a wonder - open, stubborn and even sometimes wise.
Only when life-and-death issues creep into the narrative does Cohen lose her grip on the story. Len and Rachel make important decisions - including about who's living where - that we don't see communicated to the kids. So circumstances have suddenly changed between the two families in ways that don't seem real. And things get a bit too tidy in the end.
But Cohen, whose previous novel Town House was also a winner, knows how to deliver an entertaining story that sustains your interest.
Cohen reads at Hart House Library Tuesday (September 30). See Readings.