Saturday, April 25, 2009

Time Out: It's Only Temporary by Sally Warner

"Until you go back to Albuquerque?" Ms. O'Hare asked, instantly focusing on the wrong thing, in Skye's opinion. "But you're living here now, aren't you?"

"Not really," Skye said. "I mean, I'm here," she tried to explain, her eyes on the floor, "but I'm not really here, if you know what I mean. It's only temporary. Just until my big brother gets better."

"There's no such thing as 'only temporary,' Skye," Ms. O'Hare said quietly. "Unless you consider everything to be temporary, I suppose. Each moment in life is important, you know."

Oh, great, Skye thought. Just what she needed, a philosopher.

Two days after he gets his driver's license, Skye's brother Scott wrecks the car and is diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. While their parents are absorbed in his therapy, Skye gets shipped off to stay with her grandmother in California, leaving behind everything she loves--her school, her close friend Hana, her home. Angry, but feeling guilty for her resentment of her reckless brother and distracted parents, Skye determines that the only way to survive this new life and a strange new school is to make herself invisible--unremarkable, unnoticed, almost a non-person. "It's only temporary," she reminds herself, just for a semester, and then she will go back to her real life.

But her art teacher Ms. O'Hare turns out to be right: despite Skye's attempts to keep aloof, the people and events at Sierra Madre Middle School begin to draw her into life there. Her neighbor, Maddy seems to have a mild case of Asperger's, but although Skye finds her strange, she appreciates her unquestioning loyalty, especially when eighth-grade football bullies zero in on Skye's new friends from art class, whom they call "the art jerks." Ms. O'Hare's after-school art activities group becomes more and more important to Skye. Reluctant to reveal her feelings with the grandmother she barely knows or her overburdened mom, Skye turns more and more to her new friends and to her secret mainstay, an art notebook crammed with humorous drawings and observations about her life and the people in it.

Just as Skye is forming close friendships with the art jerks, as they jokingly begin to call themselves, the football bullies, abetted by the snooty "Bad Ballerina," girls, zero in on one art classmate, whom they jeeringly call "Pip the Pansy." Name-calling, tripping, and shoving escalate until on Halloween the boys attempt to beat him up. Soon an irresistible opportunity for revenge against the bullies opens up: the art group is given the job of designing a photographic brochure to be distributed at the big pre-Thanksgiving homecoming football game. Skye sketches unflattering in-drag cartoon portraits of the four ringleaders to be substituted for their macho football portraits in the center insert of the school newspaper. The plan works perfectly, but when the angry boys corner the art jerks beyond the view of the school staff, the encounter turns physical before it is discovered. Skye now finds herself far from invisible--right at the center of a school-wide brouhaha and facing possible big-time disciplinary action for herself and her friends.

Sally Warner's It's Only Temporary offers a believable main character who finds herself thrust into a situation she never expected. Skye makes both good and bad choices as she deals with her "temporary" life and finally learns that perhaps Ms. O'Hare's philosophical advice was right on target. A gentle look at the "making it in middle school" motif, Warner's empathetic story and comic illustrations offer a taste of wisdom and a taste of humor from a girl who unwillingly finds herself with a lot on her plate.

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