Review Blog

May 20 2009

Zelah Green, Queen of clean by Vanessa Curtis

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Egmont Children's, 2009.
(Ages 11-15) Highly recommended. Zelah Green is a 14 year old girl, whose mother has died and been 'replaced' with a stepmother. She is always on Germ Alert or Dirt Alert. Her life has been taken over by rituals to ensure cleanliness and deal with her obsessions. She removes smudges from mirrors and windows, and washes her hands each morning - right hand, then left hand, 31 times. Her obsessive behaviour extends to equally spacing the clothes in her wardrobe and even checking checklists.
Her obsessive compulsory disorder creates problems for her and her family. While Zelah is clearly different to other girls her age, she also exhibits many characteristics of early adolescents. Her relationship with her best friend Fran is similar to many other early adolescent friendships. This will allow young readers to empathise with Zelah and join her on her journey.
Zelah relates her story with great warmth in a first person narrative. She uses a teenage vernacular, which gives her a very authentic voice.There is also a fresh, original use of language, which contributes to the book's literary merit.
Vanessa Curtis is a new children's author, but one sure to attract the attention of young readers. In this book she provides them with real characters, and an insight into one girl's family turmoil and grief. If all of this sounds very heavy, it's not. The story is told with brightness and a quirky sense of humour, and it moves along at a good pace.
In a school setting this book could be compared to The curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon. In both books the central character is an adolescent with a different way of viewing and dealing with the world and experiencing significant social disability as a result.
High interest novel for this age group (particularly girls). Also a very good read for adults.
Margaret Strickland

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