The Monkeyface Chronicles Richard Scarsbrook
Saskatchewan: Thistledown Press, 2010.
Welcome to Fairville Public School where all Phillip Skyler knows is bullying and injustice. From start to finish Phillip’s character is so clearly and carefully portrayed that the reader instantly feels a strong kinship and bond that makes you want to help him fight off his bullies, namely the Principals twin sons Graham and Grant Brush, send his family to therapy, tell his twin brother to smarten up, and generally protect Phillip from his life.
Phillip, a grade 8 with “Van der Woode Syndrome” is not so cleverly called “Monkeyface” because of the physical manifestations of his syndrome. But Phillip is anything but the unintelligent, anti-social, lesser twin to his brother Michael that others perceive him to be. He is smart, witty and self-deprecating, with an extremely high level of personal strength, given the torment he continually has to face.
Set in small town Ontario, Richard Scarsbrook crafted a complex and disturbingly realistic view of what it’s like to be different in a community where different is a bad thing. From an extremist church, to a single-minded vice-Principal hockey coach, blind to bullying Principal and materialistic ‘Little Color Girls’, with just as materialistic parents, Phillip just can never seem to catch a break. His struggles at school, with friends and with his family represent the ups and downs of real life, even if Phillips situation is more extreme than the average teenager.
Nothing is ever perfect, wrong-doers do not necessarily receive fair punishment, working hard does not necessarily yield the results you want and people may not change and they may never treat you well, because life is not fair or just. Phillip and his family have to learn these lessons the hard way and he has to work extraordinarily hard to even attempt to find his own place in the world.
Throughout the novel the reader gets to see Phillip at many different stages including a thirteen-year-old, from eighteen to early twenties, and as an undefined aged adult. We see him rise above bullying, make great friends, figure out where he fits within his town and his family and we see him experience huge struggle and accomplishment. No matter what Phillip is experiencing, he is a deeply compelling and interesting character, whose voice is almost addictive, in that once you enter Phillips world and you begin to hear his story, you never want the novel to end. An extraordinarily compelling and interesting read.