“I wish you weren’t my daughter,” the girl’s mother remarks. With that, she grounds the child and refuses to forgive Antonia’s misdemeanors. Pity her. She deserves a caring home without emotional abuse.
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Antonia brings a dog to the zoo, misleads her teacher, and sneaks out of the house. She and her friend trade report cards--“for a good cause”. When she takes her dog to the vet, she “rearranges” her phone number and address in order to avoid paying the bill. Punish her. She deserves a whoopin’... and I don’t believe in corporal punishment.
Now, suppose the above scenarios refer to the same child—broken, yet bristling. Is emotional abuse actually present? How does one pity and punish simultaneously? Jennifer Choldenco seems to believe this phenomenon possible. Notes from a Liar and Her Dog is an exploration of flat, unchanging human psychology. The climax takes place not for the character, but for the reader: you wait, wait some more, and top the tiresome hours off by waiting just a bit more. Your anticipation mounts, only to be dashed at the last minute. This seems to be what the author considers an entertaining--yes, laughable--climax..
At ten, Antonia (Ant) McPherson believes she is adopted. Why shouldn’t she? Her father is always out of town, and her mother displays a definite preference for Ant’s sisters. Katie and Elizabeth are well-behaved and enjoy dancing, while Ant doesn’t mind a mess and makes quite a few of her own. Mess I: maintaining an untidy room. Fair enough; not all bedrooms must be spotless. Mess II: bringing her dog to the zoo. Ant rationalizes her behavior by explaining that she must give her elderly dog his medication at the proper time--but what will happen if Ant’s art teacher loses her volunteering position because of the Great Dog Decision? Mess III, IV, V... XXXVI: Lying, lying, lying, ad infinitum. Ant lies about every aspect of life, whether significant or not. At times, she deceives others for fear of consequences; at others, her chronic untruths are characteristic of mere habit.
Will Ant ever learn that truth is more fulfilling than deceit? Will her mother grow to love or even tolerate her? What of the art teacher who has lost her volunteer position as a result of Ant’s inconsiderate ways? Don’t read the book; you don’t need to find out. (Note to Teachers: This is what you’ll find at the end of book reports if your students “secretly” despise their assigned reading.)
Children’s books are of two kinds--undeveloped slush that makes no pretenses to intellectualism, and literature that conveys a universal purpose. In the former, resolutions are flawless; in the latter, endings are jaggedly nd unpredictable. In both cases, some resolution must take place. Otherwise, readers conclude that the publisher simply omitted the last twenty pages. Choldenco defies every possible literary pattern by providing no resolution, hopeful or otherwise. Oh, yes, the characters’ actions and environments change, but Ant is far from dynamic. Readers are faced with the immediate sense that all characters will continue in an endless cycle: Ant will continue misleading her mother, and dear Mama will continue wishing her daughter faraway. This, dear reader, is no way to pen literature.
All first-person writing, particularly in the vivid present tense, should be perfect. Yet, this book is the antithesis of perfection. Never have I encountered a work that strove so valiantly to teach morals, yet remained so valueless--not valuable, and incapable of teaching values.
If you are in search of fiction for preteens, go to the library and begin selecting booksat random. If Notes from a Liar and Her Dog is not among your choices, you will have automatically amassed a fascinating collection, no matter what else happens to be in your stack. Read It's Like This, Cat or--the horror of it!-- a Baby-Sitter's Club book before you read these contradictory, tissue-paper prose.
This review is Lean 'n Mean, in all of its 653-word splendor.