The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy, by Jill Maclean.
Reviewed from uncorrected proof. Available October 2009.
Girls get little respect. That is a gross generalization, but it’s still true when it comes to children’s literature. Girls will read stories about boys, but boys have a harder time reading about girls. Would boys have read Hermione Granger and the Philosopher’s Stone, about a witch with a lightning-shaped scar? Who knows? Either way, good for Jill Maclean, who has followed up last year’s The Nine Lives of Travis Keating with a book about his friend, Prinny Murphy.
Prinny’s story takes place a few months after Travis’s, but the subject matter has become darker, and it’s more mature. At the age of twelve, Prinny keeps house for her father, a well-meaning fisherman who doesn’t know the first thing about a daughter’s needs. Number one on that list would be a good mother. Prinny’s mother is a woman who chooses Captain Morgan over her own daughter; her alcoholism got her kicked out of the house a few weeks before the story’s beginning. A trio of mean girls bully and blackmail Prinny with photos of her mother with another man. To make matters worse, Travis abandons her when he falls for the new girl, the rich and pretty Laice Haddon. There might never have been anything romantic between Prinny and Travis, but he was her only real friend, and he was the only person with enough backbone to stand up to the bullies.
Life, it seems, has it in for Prinny. When Prinny tells Laice that she hoped they could be friends, Laice replies that she’s not that desperate. The cruelty Prinny endures from the bullies is so bad that you just have to admire her courage. Although she is in remedial reading (yet another source of embarrassment for her), she finds a book about a downtrodden heroine. The book is Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff, and it opens Prinny up to hope, strength, and resolve.
Once again, Jill Maclean convincingly portrays bullies and the power they can have over other children. This time the bullies are girls, but that doesn’t make them any less effective than the bruising Hud Quinn from The Nine Lives. (Hud makes a brief but powerful appearance in this novel.) Children will recognize the dirty tactics of the schoolyard (or the school bus, or the washroom, or the mall, etc.), but the book also shows that a bully's power diminishes with defiance.
Another of the book’s strengths is how beautifully it’s written. Maclean uses Prinny’s voice to tell the story, and her voice is authentic for a girl who had to grow up fast. The language manages to be simple and easy (not always the same thing), yet beautiful and poetic.
All in all, this is a fabulous story about the importance of friendship, family, and courage, and it’s a great read for children and parents alike. Hopefully there’s a third novel up Maclean’s sleeve. Something about Hud Quinn, perhaps?
Verdict: Cream of the crop.