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Fishtailing Phillips, Wendy Jean

Abstract

Fishtailing is a young adult narrative in free verse poetry in six voices. Set in Vancouver, B.C., it is the story of four teens who navigate the complexity of modern high school as well as their own inner mysteries. Against the backdrop of a high school season and a poetry unit in English class, the four are caught in a web of past torments, present conflicts and future dreams. When their interaction touches secrets, the explosion of passion and violence transforms them all. When Natalie arrives at the school, she causes ripples in the smooth surface of the high school. A troubled soul with self-destructive habits, Natalie attaches herself to Tricia. Tricia is alienated from her newly reconstructed, allwhite family, and her habitual compliance is wearing thin. Tricia's need to be chosen makes her vulnerable to Natalie's influence, and her changing image makes her at the same time more confident and more fragile. Kyle is a talented mechanic and reluctant poet who learns that words help him not only connect with Tricia, the girl he can't stop thinking about, but also discover his own voice. Kyle's science partner, and Natalie's other target is Miguel, a traumatized refugee from a civil war in Central America. The loss of his parents leaves Miguel withdrawn and isolated in the hustle of a modern multicultural Canadian high school. At home, his uncle and cousin support the armed struggle, while he struggles with his own reactions to the violence. At school, Miguel is drawn out of his isolation into the mainstream of the school social scene, and into tragedy. The four play out their fragmented roles, interconnected by their passions and their misunderstandings, and observed by their detached poetry teacher and compassionate but ineffectual counsellor. As the web of events rises to a climax, Natalie's dark secrets and Miguel's deep, unresolved grief leave them broken; for Kyle and Tricia, however, transformation leads to hope.

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