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Bookends: An Aspiring Young Writer Tries Desperate Measures February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, Stacey Matson, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: An Aspiring Young Writer Tries Desperate MeasuresA year in the Life

By Dan Davidson

April 11, 2017

– 790 words –


A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius

By Stacey Matson

Scholastic Books

272 pages



Arthur Bean is a genius, and destined to be the next great Canadian Author, at least in his own mind. His journal, as it begins in October of the school year, begins “The Next Great Canadian Novel (Title to be announced)”, under which he has written, and crossed out, nine opening sentences.

Arthur has been through some tough times lately, and moving into a new school, with many new challenges, beginning grade 7, just adds to the list of problems. His biggest problems stem from the recent death of his mother, which was a lingering, wasting death that has left his father traumatized, and Arthur over-compensating in ways that sometimes make him see a tad delusional.

For this and other reasons, he is what we call an unreliable narrator, not exactly a liar, but one who writes and believes his own press clippings. There’s been a lot of that going on the Big World lately, so it’s not as odd as it seems.

Arthur has some allies in life, if he will just use hem properly. His dad is trying to come out of his depression, but it’s a slow process. His next door neighbour, Nicole, who looks in on him after school when his father is still at work (don’t you dare consider her a babysitter) is a good source of support and advice.

For most of the year, he has an understanding homeroom teacher, who is also his English teacher. Ms. Whitehead has a skiing accident part way though the year, and the substitute, Mrs. Carrell, isn’t nearly so understanding. The staff advisor for the school newspaper is also a supportive soul, though he sometimes has to pull on Arthur’s reins a bit.

Arthur has a nemesis named Robbie Zack, so naturally Ms. Whitehead pairs them in a peer tutoring assignment that runs on through the entire year, and actually accomplishes exactly what she intended it too. The boys were equally at fault, but they eventually do learn something from each other.

Arthur’s writing partner for the year’s major short story assignment is Kennedy, a girl he is terribly sweet on, so naturally he has to suffer through ups and downs of her relationships with other boys.

This story is told to us is a very old-fashioned manner, with a bunch of new wrinkles. The epistolary style goes back to such classics as The Moonstone and Dracula where it manifested as a collection of letters and diary entries used to carry the story.

Matson has cleverly undated the technique to include email correspondence, letters, a school writing journal, Arthur and Robbie’s peer tutoring reports, school assignments, the student’s responses to school assignments, report card notes, school newspaper articles and cartoons.

There are also drawings, as it turns out Robbie is a budding cartoonist.

Matson says the layout for this book drove her publishers to distraction. The average chapter has several different fonts, in a variety of sizes and styles as well as a sketch or two. These were all executed quite well in the KOBO e-book version that I read on my iPad, though the laptop version of the KOBO software was not able to handle the task as well.

Arthur creates most of his own problems, though mostly not by intention. He is pretty much black and white in his judgements about most people and speaks his mind even when it would be better if he didn’t.

While he is constantly writing things all through the months, when it comes to creative fiction he suffers from writer’s block. His goal is to launch himself to fame by winning the short story writing contest and getting published. He is so anxious to win the writing contest that he trades his chance to play Romeo opposite Kennedy’s Juliet in the school play so that he can “borrow” a story that Robbie has written, fix it up a bit (he has the makings of a great editor) and submit it as his own.

That, you may imagine, gets him into all sorts of trouble and none of the things he does to rectify his error – once he completely understands it – work out as well as he hopes they will.

Matson had great good fortune in launching her career, and this book led to a contract for a trilogy with the same characters. She’s moving on to new projects now ad has two completely different books on the go.

Stacey Matson concluded her three months at Berton House at the end of March, and greatly enjoyed her winter stay.