Fishtailing Wendy Phillips Essay Topics

Tagged:CanLit Rewind, Fishtailing, Wendy Phillips, Coteau Books


This year marks forty years of supporting and celebrating some of Canada's finest literary presses for our parent organization, the Literary Press Group of Canada. To help celebrate, for the entire month of October All Lit Up will be highlighting books from our publishers that either helped launch a new voice in CanLit or made an impact at the press it was published with. Go on a CanLit Rewind with us to rediscover some backlist gems!

 

Our next CanLit Rewind selection is the debut novel for teens by Wendy Phillips. Like the teens in her book, Wendy began writing young. At the age of 11 she started her first novel and hasn't stopped since, working as a journalist, an English teacher, and a high-school teacher-librarian. Her time working in schools gave her a front row seat to the realities of being a modern teenager and it definitely shows in this novel. Fishtailing conquers the difficult subjects of teen violence, bullying, and the quest to fit in. Told in free verse poetry, we meet Natalie, Kyle, Tricia, and Miguel who are all in the same English class. Natalie, new to the school, befriends the other three students, who soon find they are the unwitting victims of Natalie's spider-web of manipulations, lies, and deceit. If that description isn't enough to draw you into Fishtailing, Coteau Books shares why it is so important to their press and CanLit in general.

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Fishtailing is unique not only for the story Wendy Phillips weaves about four students’, but because of the way in which Wendy chooses to tell the story – through their poetry assignments. The teens tell their stories through free verse, allowing the raw emotion they feel to really shine through. Natalie, whose alcoholic parents, years of neglect and ultimate rape by her father's friend has shaped her into a cruel and manipulative teen; Tricia, dealing with her blended family is drawn into Natalies's forbidden world of partying and rebellion; Kyle, a would-be musician is in love with Tricia and Miguel who lusts for Natalie while hiding the secrets of his family. The story weaves us through their poetry, their lives and culminates at a party where the four lives fishtail out of control.

The poems the students write for their assignments are interspersed with the teachers’ thoughts and opinions, giving the book a well-rounded plot with enticing characters you can’t help but feel for. We all know the very real and painful emotions that teenagers use to express themselves when they write poetry at that age, and Phillips vividly captures it all by accurately emulating this style of writing.

At the time of publication, it was already apparent that readers were responding to the book as we hoped they would. The Winnipeg Review said, "Its compelling cover and stunning story will surely entice students into the powerful world of poetry" [Spoiler warning if you read the full review] and the Ontario Library Association shortlisted it for their Forest of Reading White Pine Award for high school students. The book also went on to win the 2010 Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Fiction and the Moonbeam Children's Book Award for Innovative Storytelling.

The book is already five years old, but the topics Phillips covers are as timely as ever, and this is why we believe Fishtailing will deservedly resonate within the YA CanLit canon for years to come. She has weaved an intricate tale of the lives of four teenagers – the struggles, heartache, bullying, and violence – in such an interesting and unique way that this book not only speaks to the young adults it’s aimed at, but appeals to educators, parents, and others interested in these topics as well. 

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Fishtailing is a great book to introduce teens to Canadian Literature and poetry, with writing that won't talk down to them and pitch-perfect voices for the various characters. Thank you Coteau for sharing such an interesting book with us! Go back all the way to the beginning of the CanLit Rewind series and catch them all here.


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Teen violence, bullying and the burning quest to fit in are presented in the poems of four unforgettable high school students: Natalie, Kyle, Tricia, Miguel. Their stories unfold in this explosive new book told in free verse. A story of teen angst like no other, it is based on fictional characters but is rooted in the realities of the teen experience. When Natalie moves toTeen violence, bullying and the burning quest to fit in are presented in the poems of four unforgettable high school students: Natalie, Kyle, Tricia, Miguel. Their stories unfold in this explosive new book told in free verse. A story of teen angst like no other, it is based on fictional characters but is rooted in the realities of the teen experience. When Natalie moves to a new high school she befriends three unwitting victims into her spider-web of manipulations, lies and deceit. Through the poetry and assignments of an English class we glimpse the world of the four teens. Natalie, whose alcoholic parents, years of neglect and ultimate rape by her father's friend has shaped her into a cruel and manipulative teen; Tricia, dealing with her blended family, is drawn into Natalies' forbidden world of partying and rebellion; Kyle, a would-be musician is in love with Tricia and Miguel who lusts for Natalie while hiding the secrets of his family.

The story weaves us through their poetry, their lives and culminates at a party where the four lives fishtail out of control. English class will never be the same....more

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