Whatever (2013), by Ann Walsh: Resource Links review

This review was published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.2. I have previously reviewed this novel on my blog, as it was so good I did not want to wait to share it with my readers. This is the first-written but second-published review.

Whatever

Walsh-Whatever“Whatever”: one of the most annoyingly dismissive epithets known to the adult world. Ann Walsh encapsulates the attitudes of surly teenhood admirably in the open pages of her novel. Darrah is angry; she feels neglected; to a large extent she is neglected. Readers thus understand completely the feelings that drive her to pull a fire alarm in the hospital where her younger brother is taken—yet again—by her excessively protective mother after an epileptic seizure. Once again, Darrah and her needs are subsumed in her parents’ concern for Andrew, and this time Darrah misses an important audition for a community play.

What follows is an intimate look at Restorative Justice, a program instituted in British Columbia in 2010 in which minor offenders who show remorse for their actions are given the opportunity for reparation in a meaningful way within their community. When Darrah is sent to assist Mrs. Johnson, who broke her leg in the fiasco that Darrah caused at the hospital, we are introduced to a curmudgeonly old lady with a strong will, strong opinions, and a deep, seldom-expressed sympathy for Darrah’s situation. Working with “Mrs. J,” Darrah not only learns some essential life skills—from cooking to compassion—but also finds a happiness that was missing from her family’s overly busy lifestyle.

This sounds relatively predictable as a plot, but Walsh’s characters—functioning within recognizable familial and social structures—are complex and deeply nuanced. We feel empathy for Darrah, experiencing her anger, her doubts, her pride, her joy, and ultimately her sorrow. For teens struggling with difficulties of all types—familial, legal, emotional—Darrah’s story provides solace through identification; I cannot recommend this novel strongly enough.

A Follow-Up Activity Guide is also available for Whatever from Ronsdale Press, Vancouver, BC.

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