This review was first 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 16.5.
The premise of Somebody’s Girl is admirable and Maggie de Vries manages to bring in a number of important issues that would trouble an adopted child whose parents are having their own, long-desired but unexpected baby. Also well presented are the interactions between the teacher and children. The first few pages of the novel are certainly eye opening in de Vries ability to present the angst that a young child might feel when placed in what she considers an “unfair” situation in the classroom; these pages made me stop and think about how often I, as an adult, completely fail to appreciate the child’s perspective.
Martha is an angry child: she feels insecure within her family; she resents her birth-mother (with whom she is in sporadic contact); and she is dismissive of other children with problems, such as Chance, a child in foster care who has ADHD. When she is partnered with Chance, whose foster mother is her mother’s best friend, she not only thinks uncharitable thoughts, but behaves inappropriately. The teacher diffuses the situation effectively, and she learns from her time with Chance that “different” does not equate with “lesser.” The other adults in the text, however, miss a number of opportunities of disciplining Martha effectively, at times when her behaviour and attitudes are not only inappropriate, but hurtful to those around her. Martha as a character is too angry; as an adult reader, I could only wish that the adults in her life would give her more guidance, stronger boundaries, and listen more to what she was not saying explicitly. In the end, while she does smooth over the difficulties with her girlfriends, and comes to value the intelligence and empathy Chance exhibits, she remains an unlikeable child. We do not see enough of the positive development that begins, and far too much of the negative behaviour that necessitates her change in attitude.