Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 14 to 18
- Grade: 9 to 12
First-time novelist Mary-Lou Zeitoun's 13 wryly evokes an unavoidable time and place in everyone's life -- the teenage years -- without rendering the experience into saccharine nostalgia. Zeitoun's imitation of the adolescent voice is dead-on, without falling into repetitious teenspeak.
About the author
MARY-LOU ZEITOUN is a Palestinian-Canadian author, essayist, arts journalist and activist. Her novel 13 was the YA winner of the 2008 New England Book Festival award and she has had fiction published in Taddle Creek magazine and Canadian Notes and Queries. She divides her time between Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario.
- Winner, New England Book Festival
Excerpt: 13 (by (author) Mary-Lou Zeitoun)
What a bunch of losers. It's the fifth anniversary of John Lennon's death and I'm finally in New York, Central Park, Strawberry Fields. I'm surrounded by John Lennon fans. I used to love John Lennon, except for that May Pang period when he was drinking with Harry Nilsson and wearing Kotex on his head. I thought he was cool. Okay, I thought he was God. But these fans are not cool. They're frumpy, frizzy, balding and, considering the bovine looks on their faces, stupid too.
'Are you a Punk Rocker?'
It was a hippie child with one of those short-on-top, long in-the-back, 'isn't it cute when a baby looks like a rock star' haircuts.
'Piss Off,' I said quietly.
John Lennon was the first sexy genius I fell in love with, but I never wanted to be dishwater blonde Cynthia, I wanted to be Yoko. I'm certainly weird enough to be Yoko. I was even weirder when I was thirteen, the year I tried to kill my Media Studies teacher. The year John Lennon died.
When I was thirteen, I lived in my room and I hated everything. I hated the suburb of Green Vista. I hated Ottawa. I hated my street. I hated my mother. I hated my ugly, white brick school, but most of all I hated my Media Studies teacher stupid Mr Carter who lived behind us in an ugly bungalow. I could see his room through a crack in my curtains from where I'd lie on my bed. He never closed his curtains so I always had to have mine closed. I wasn't missing anything. My window looked out on a dumb view anyhow. Nothing to see but other people's swimming pools and petunia borders. 'Marnie, don't be so Negative,' my mother always said. Mom would get mad at Anne Frank for being scared of the Nazis. She would think Anne Frank was being 'Negative'.
I was already disgusted with adults smiling their funny tight smiles whenever they got embarrassed. They hated it whenever anyone got mad -- that embarrassed them and I embarrassed them all the time. When I embarrassed them they got this fake smile but underneath I could tell they were freaking out. You could be dying in my house but if it would be embarrassing to save you they wouldn't save you. So when they really should have listened to me they just sent me to my room and smiled that little Catholic smile.
When adults looked at me their faces closed up and they'd smile a little and they'd think I couldn't see them shake their heads. Except our neighbour Mrs Martini.
Mrs Martini told Mom once I was going to be a knockout when I grew up. My Mom looked surprised and smiled that little smile. My Mom doesn't really like Mrs Martini. My Mom would think it was rude to be a knockout. There's a rumour that Mrs Martini was once a stripper. You could hear my Mom thinking. 'Marnie is not good looking. She is not petite.' I pictured myself as a knockout. I'd be on TV with shiny, bouncy hair. Would I ever be mean to the men. Only the most brilliant men could have me. It would be just like Gram's romance novels which I read when I went to her place. She died when I was twelve but we both used to stay up late reading gothic romances together even though they are so stupid and the heroine always fights with the hero at first and she's always like a total knockout with 'eyes too wide for beauty' or a 'reed-slim figure' but they pretend she's really plain. If I was a knockout, I would be so skinny that I would borrow little boy's clothes when I fell into the river or something. All the men would fight over me and I would choose the one who impressed me most. Then that one would turn out to be mean and tie me up and hit me and then the real one I should have loved, the one I argued with at first, would save me, just like in the books. But I wasn't a knockout. I was size fourteen with greasy brown straight hair and brown eyes. Boring, boring, boring. I didn't even have a waist, so maybe Mrs Martini was just trying to be nice.
I liked Mrs Martini, she made good maple fudge even though she wanted Buddy the German shepherd across the street put down because he jumped on her when she was holding the baby. I liked Buddy because he'd follow me to school and I'd have to take him home and miss class. Finally he was sent away though. He killed the Boulder's cat in the driveway.
When it was happening, all the adults stood around the cat afraid of Buddy because he was big. He used to pay attention to me because I love animals and he could tell. I was maybe gonna be a vet, or an album cover designer like Klaus Voorman who did the Revolver album for the Beatles. But Buddy didn't even see me that day. He didn't pay attention when I called him or anybody called him. He kept smiling and jumping onto the old cat. It was just a furry, bloody lump on the concrete but somehow the cat would hiss and scratch in Buddy's mouth when Buddy grabbed it again and again. The trashy teenager from two doors down, big Linda with her tight jeans and tank tops, started swearing. 'Somebody get the dog the fuck away from it!!' The adults looked more scared that Linda was swearing than that Buddy was killing the cat. Nobody ever swore on our street. Every time Buddy grabbed the cat, my stomach opened up in a huge hole that went right to my eyes. Mr and Mrs Boulder looked so upset but nobody could get near Buddy. I hated the adults for just standing there. The next time he let go of the cat I ran to him and grabbed his collar and dragged him away, 'Here Buddy, here Buddy,' I said. I was scared. He looked like he was going to bite me. There was blood on his grin. They scooped up the cat and took him away to be put down.
I let go of Buddy when the cat was safe and stood around for a few minutes watching the adults shake their heads and talk to each other. Nobody thanked me. I went to my room even though I wanted to scream and run around. I didn't even really like my room but it was the only place I could go.
'[Zeitoun is] terrific at setting, and has a cinematic sensibility ... Zeitoun is also terrific at the pensive, vacillating, intimate, interior moments that really make a reader's breathing shift.'
Globe & Mail
'Anybody fearing for the future of Canadian writing need look no further than the authors we are showcasing today.... Reading 13 is like going through adolescence all over again. Mary-Lou Zeitoun ... has written a dramatic monologue in the voice of Marnie Harmon, a raging, passionate, smart and rebellious Ottawa teenager.... Marnie's voice, trembling between the playfulness of a child and the sneering bravado of an adolescent, is captivating.'
Globe & Mail
'What made 2002 wonderful was the mind-blowing work from new writers.... Zeitoun gets right into the head of a teenager growing up in 1980 in this kick-ass comic novel....'
'Mary-Lou Zeitoun captures the self-obsessed, sullen, frustrating essence of what it is to be a semi-outcast adolescent girl so adroitly that I got spooked.... Here we all were thinking what misunderstood individuals we were and this woman sums us all up in 144 neatly bound pages.'