Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

Barry Jonsberg
For ages 10 to 12
Chronicle, 2013   ISBN: 978-1452133515

Candice Phee is not like other children. Perhaps the most noticeable thing about her that is different is the fact that she refuses to talk to people whom she does not know well. Instead of talking to such people, she writes them notes. As a result of this behavior Candice has no friends at school and many people think that she is a “special needs child,” which she most certainly is not. Indeed, Candice is very intelligent and smart. She reads the dictionary and Charles Dickens’ books from cover to cover, so her vocabulary is excellent. She also expresses herself in a remarkably literate, if somewhat archaic, way.

   Then a new boy comes to school, Douglas Benson from Another Dimension, and Candice is no longer friendless. Douglas insists that he comes from another dimension and he spends much of his time trying to figure out how to go home. Compared to Douglas, Candice seems positively normal.

   Candice has come to the conclusion that the broken things in her life can no longer be tolerated. Some years ago Candice’s baby sister died in her crib of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Not long after this tragic event, Candice’s mother got breast cancer and she had to have a double mastectomy. Then Candice’s father and his brother, Rich Uncle Brian (RUB), had a disagreement about who really wrote the code for some software that they invented. Candice’s father became bitter and poor, RUB became rich and unhappy, and now they have nothing to do with one another.

   Now Candice’s mother, who is wracked by depression, rarely leaves her room; her grumpy and sad father hardly ever spends time with his family; RUB seems to be unhappy and lost, and Douglas keeps jumping out to trees in an effort to get back to his proper dimension. In addition Candice’s pet fish may be going through an existential crisis, and her teacher is being teased because she has a lazy eye. Everyone around Candice is miserable, and since Candice seems to be the only one who cares about the mess, she is the one who has to do something about it.

   The thing about Candice is that she is willing to go to great lengths to make the people around her happy. She rides a tricycle to Douglas’ house every evening to make sure that he doesn’t jump into a ravine. Candice gives her teacher an eye patch, hoping that this will help with the whole lazy eye problem. Then she asks to go on a boat trip with RUB just so that she can talk about what is going on with him in private, even though she gets seasick when she is on the water. Candice dares to throw herself into the ocean (and almost drowns) to try to bring her father and RUB back together. She even cooks a meal and tries to speak French, just to cheer up her mother. Candice Phee is a very determined person.

   This deliciously funny and incredibly touching book explores the way in which a young twelve-year-old girl tries to help the people she cares about. Her methods are, to say the least, rather unusual, and they often fail miserably, but she does not give up, and readers will find it hard not to cheer her on. It is impossible not to hope that she will find a way to bring her quest to a successful close.