Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being cool, Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary’s obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.
I felt hooked into the story from the first page, and I think the author did a marvelous job describing places in Toronto, the city where I spent most of my adult life. I found Kallie’s character fascinating and felt drawn to her academically inclined family. Sometimes, I even found Kallie a bit too mature for her years. Throughout the story, she plays the role of a loyal friend and confidante, listening patiently to Hilary’s rants about weight gain and her desire join the popular group. Also, I would love to see more of Chanel’s perspective (the antagonist of the story) to understand why she was acting a certain way.
On the overall, I found History of Hilary Hambrushina a worthy read for the middle grade audience. The story explores the themes of bullying and self-acceptance quite well. The middle school years are challenging for many young people, as they are still learning how to navigate relationships with their peers. I was partly glad that Hilary realized her mistakes while still being in middle school, not in high school where consequences could be much more serious. And—here’s a spoiler alert—the characters did find their happy ending (or perhaps a new beginning)!
Kallie’s room was the first on the left. Swinging open the door, she spread her arms out and said, “Ta-da!”
Although I was expecting something unusual, I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me. The walls and ceiling were black, and the ceiling had a pattern of white dots and lines that reminded me of the night sky. A huge hammock stretched like a crescent moon between two walls. Some sort of rope-and-wheel apparatus that looked like something we’d built in science class last year was attached to the wall and ceiling above the ends of the hammock. In front of the window was a telescope pointed outside. At least a hundred stuffed animals sat against the walls, and books and clothes lay scattered on the floor.
“What do you think?” asked Kallie proudly.
I didn’t know what to say. It was the strangest room I’d ever been in, but also the most interesting. I thought of my own room, with the shiny new Damian Sámos poster (the same one as Lynn’s) on one wall and the old wallpaper my dad still hadn’t taken down on the other. The wallpaper had faceless Victorian ladies holding flowered parasols, and I loved it — when I was six. Then there was the squeaky hinge on my closet door (another thing my dad hadn’t fixed). Even my new lavender chenille bedding, which I’d begged my mom to buy, looked so boring compared to Kallie’s room.
Finally I mumbled, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Really? Fantastic! I wanted to make it unique.”
“Is that the night sky?” I asked, looking at the ceiling.
“Yeah. Those are the constellations. Razi and I finished painting them last night.”
I stared at her. “You painted them? You mean it’s not wallpaper?”
“No, but if you thought it was, it must mean we did a good job.”
“You did an amazing job!” I exclaimed. I looked around the room in awe. How could Kallie have painted such a complicated pattern? I couldn’t imagine painting a wall so well, let alone a ceiling.
Kallie was beaming. “Thanks. We did it mostly at night because we could see the sky then. We had a big map to help us during the day, but you can’t really get the feel of the stars without looking at them, you know?”
Actually I didn’t. I’d never thought about that before.
“But the real reason I asked you to come over,” said Kallie, grinning, “was because I was wondering if you wanted to help me paint stuff on the walls.”
For the first time, I noticed that the walls had no patterns on them. “You want me to help paint your room?” I was surprised and kind of honoured. After all, she barely knew me. “O.K.”
“Great! Stay there!” She dashed out. I looked around. That’s when I realized something was missing. When Kallie came back, pushing a wooden cart with jars of paint in dozens of colours, I asked, “Uh … Kallie, where’s the bed?”
“The bed you sleep on?”
“Who says I sleep on a bed?” She moved some stuffed animals to the hammock.
“Where do you sleep then?”
“In the hammock, of course.”
I was stunned. “You sleep in a hammock? Why?”
“Well … isn’t it uncomfortable?” I said, starting to feel impatient. Why did she always have to answer my questions with another question?
About the Author
A Journey Prize nominee, Marnie Lamb earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in various Canadian literary journals. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, is forthcoming from Iguana Books. When she is not writing fiction or running her freelance editing business, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out colourful fashions at the One of a Kind Show.
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