Bye-bye, Evil Eye (2014), by Deborah Kerbel

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 20.1.

Kerbel - Evil EyeDani has been given an amazing opportunity: she has been invited to accompany her best friend, Kat, on a trip to Greece, Kat’s family’s homeland. The conditions of Dani’s travelling are to heed Kat’s mother, Mrs. Papadakis, and to actively engage in learning about Greek history and culture. Dani’s responses to her mother’s rules are those of a rebellious teen: more interested in her own enjoyment, she actively engages in swimming, flaunting Mrs. Papadoakis’s rules, and trying to find a boy for her more-innocent friend to kiss. The girls’ experiences overlay a superficial, even stereotypical portrayal of Greek culture: the leering young Greek Lothario, the maternal Aunt, the reticent but strong Uncle, and the American-Greek boy, Nick, who becomes Dani’s love interest.

Dani seems to be plagued with a run of bad luck, which Kat—stereotypically superstitious—attributes to the Evil Eye. When Dani’s bad luck follows the girls home to Toronto, she begins to believe Kat’s concerns, and appeals to Mrs. Papadakis for folkloric cures to the curse. The plot is complicated by Dani’s attraction to Nick, and her concern that Kat—who is distancing herself from Dani—is jealous.

Of course it all works out in the end. The problem with this novel for me—other than its reliance on so many cultural stereotypes—is the portrayal of teen sexuality. Dani and Kat are thirteen, but precocious for their years, obsessed with boys and little else. Or rather, Dani is obsessed with boys. Kat, it turns out, is obsessed with Dani. For me, the inclusion of Kat’s lesbianism as little more than a plot device belittles the experience of teens who are struggling with their sexuality. While Kerbel foreshadows the event in Kat’s seeming jealousy of Nick, there are no other clues. Kat kisses Dani on page 161, nine-tenths of the way through the narrative, which leaves the girls—and readers—very little space in which to explore the psychosocial issues that must arise from such a revelation. While it is reassuring that Kat’s kiss does not interfere with their friendship, the eliding of the emotions such a revelation must call forth is problematic. In the end, Dani does explain how she was flattered more than otherwise, and will support Kat in any decisions she has to make, but Kat’s lesbianism is not a sufficiently well-integrated part of her character.

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