Saturday, May 20, 2006

Cover Me

I just finished reading Cover Me, a novel by Mariko Tamaki. It’s her first book, published in 2000 when she was, I think, quite young, and it has the sort of rawness about it that one expects in a first book by a young writer. But given the subject matter, the rawness is right. It amps up the power of the book rather than diminishing it. Plenty of shock factors are present here: self-mutilation, a trip to the psych ward, multiple tattoos, a romantic connection between a girl and a gay boy. But none of it reads as if it’s calculated to shock. It’s all just part of the terrain that the narrator, teenaged Traci Yamoto, inhabits. The back cover copy describes Traci’s story as “a riot-girrl rumble against family expectations and private school poseurs.” This is a bit misleading, making the book sound like more of a romp than it is. Certainly there’s a wicked sense of humour at play. But there’s a quiet, sad centre as well. Traci boldly defies her family's expectations all right, but she also craves their approval, particularly that of her father who comes off as an exasperating but extremely sympathetic character. The novel is equal parts funny and moving, full of devastating moments beautifully written.

Mariko Tamaki has had two more books published since Cover Me, both of which appear to be an interesting blend of fiction and essay: True Lies: The Book of Bad Advice and Fake ID. I’m looking forward to reading them.

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