Author: Barry Jonsberg
Synopsis: Introducing Candice Phee: twelve years old, hilariously honest and a little … odd. But she has a big heart, the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to ensure everyone is happy. So she sets about trying to ‘fix’ all the problems of all the people [and pets] in her life
Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!
The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee is quite the middle grade gem. Focusing on a character who has autism is never easy, nor is it’s to embed into writing and make realistic. Candice is wonderful as a heroine to follow — she’s very methodical, quirky, and in a lot of ways is okay at the prospect of being different.
A lot of middle grade novels focus on the idea of being different and treat it as something that needs to be overcome. This novel takes it a step further, suggesting that you can overcome your differences, but it doesn’t necessarily mean everything will change. Candice is actually okay with change, and it’s interesting to watch her float through life, write her feelings, and attempt to rationalize why some things, like being bullied or the loss of her sister are the way they are. Everything has a logical process, so it’s interesting to watch when logic breaks down, how Candice copes with life and change.
Candice’s alphabet is one of the main draws of this book. She wants to catagorize her world, but as she reaches certain points, or letters rather, the vocabulary level goes up, but moreover, she begins to have some strong realizations about herself. One of my favourite scenes is her taking Jen to the library and she attempts to have a “dialog” with her about why she’s a bully. When Jen says “Her family is crap, and she feels like crap,” Candice attempts to rationalize a reason for her existence. The situation doesn’t entire go very well, but you get this very unique perspective of how Jen responds and how Candice seems confused by it.
Also Jonsberg makes it so easy to get into Candice’s mind, but as a reader it’s interesting to read about her values and perspectives versus your own. When people respond harshly to Candice, I felt like I was getting both sides of the issue. In a lot of ways it’s no wonder people respond the wrong way to her observations and ideas, on the other hand it’s easy to feel a bit of sympathy for her because she doesn’t understand WHY or HOW something she has done is wrong or offensive to someone else.
I also adored her relationship with Douglas Benson from Another Dimension. It was pretty darn hilarious when Candice would call him weird or strange, meanwhile it’s what everyone else calls her. She’s so quick to judge him, but doesn’t see the parallels between them. It makes for such fun interactions, especially when Candice tells Douglas that while she’s allowed to eat in the library,. the librarians likely won’t be as kind to him. Who says that stuff! Well, Candice does.
I loved The Catagorical Universe of Candice Phee. It’s charming, quirky, and you can tell a lot of love was put forth in crafting the story and Candice herself. I fell so easily in love with this book, and it gave me as a reader a lot to reflect upon, especially how I handled problems when I was Candice’s age. Beautifully written, with tons of humour and emotion, you’ll easily fall for Candice Phee.