Book: Fishtailing by Wendy Phillips, Coteau Books, 2010.
This is the story of four teens in high school dealing with issues of abuse, bullying, racism, violence, fitting in, and following your dreams. Wendy Philips tells the story in free verse poetry, each character with their own voice, also with input from two of their teachers.
Wendy Phillips is one of the authors who is going to be presenting at the Shuswap Writers' Festival in May, which is why I decided to read this book. I probably would not have read it otherwise, but I have to say that I am glad that I did. I wasn't sure when I saw that it was written in poetry, but it was interesting and different kind of book to read. Fishtailing also won the Governor General's Literary Award.
At first, I got a bit confused about the characters, but their voices came through fairly quickly (each page is a poem by one of each of the four characters). The stories of these four teenagers "fishtail" together in English class, with notes from the English teacher and school councilor. The issues that these teens are dealing with are very brutal and horrifying, and the poetry worked for this. All of the details did not have to be spelled out, but the language of the poetry gave more than enough to understand the full situation. The words are sparse, but packed and I found it amazing how much we could learn about a situation in so few words - this is the power of the poetry. I really felt for the characters, trying to make sense of the world as well as some issues much too big for them to handle. Fishtailing is an intense, fast read that will linger with you.
Here is the book trailer from YouTube, it sets the tone for the book really well: