What do you get when you cross the Virgin Mary with Brooke Shields, a 200-pound thirteen-year-old with a trash-talking beauty queen wannabe, and throw in a couple of talking nipples? One of the most laugh-out-loud books you’ll read all year. Meet Peter Paddington. Life hasn’t exactly been kind to him. At thirteen he’s overweight, the subject of his classmates’ ridicule, at the mercy of his menopausal mother, and the victim of too many bad movie-of-the-week story lines. As if being the only boy in grade 8 with hairy legs wasn’t bad enough…
When Peter’s nipples begin speaking to him one day and inform him of their diabolical plan to expose his secret desires, Peter finds himself cornered in a world that seems to have no tolerance for difference. Peter finds solace in “The Bedtime Movies” – perfect-world fantasies that lull him to sleep every night. But when the line between Peter’s fantasy world and his reality begins to blur, no one is safe from the depths of Peter’s imagination – especially Peter Himself.
Set in Ontario, Canada during the 1980’s Fruit is the story of Peter Paddington and his plans to completely change his life in time for grade 9. Peter has a bit of a weight problem and believes that if he could only get rid of his man-boobs his social life would surely improve. Not even sure of his actual weight, Peter instead judges by how many knuckles disappear when he puts his finger in his belly-button. Last time he checked, he was not impressed with the knuckle measurement, and to top it all off his nipples have made a rather drastic decision to pop out like cherries. Masking tape in hand Peter puts a stop to that, only to find that his nipples have taken on a life of their own – and they’re nasty little buggers too.
Sounds pretty strange eh? But taken as a whole this book is really a wonderful coming-of-age story told from a perspective not often found in novels. Peter’s narrative is imaginative, sweet and heart-breaking. His voice is one of childish honesty, where he tells things like they are. Perhaps this is how most boys are in that small space between innocent boyhood and testosterone driven manhood, but I’ve never read a story quite like this. I loved reading about all Peter’s thoughts on life – choosing between Home Ec. class which he adores or Woodshop which is not so great – the descriptions of all the social groups at school and how he fits amongst them – the daily interactions with his older sisters – dealing with a mother who may be slightly off-kilter – the pressure of trying to be who and what a father would want as a son. These are just a few of the things that Peter faces. But he faces then head-on and does his best, and that is what makes Peter Paddington such an attractive and enjoyable character.
Something else I found particularly enjoyable about this book, was the issue of Peter’s sexuality. While it appears obvious to the reader that Peter may prefer boys more than girls, Peter himself does not seem to grasp this idea. He does know something is going on, but still acts as though it is a choice a person makes rather than a natural preference. It is never addressed outright in the book that Peter is gay, but many sections skirt the topic as Peter comes closer to understanding. And as the reader follows along with Peter we get to experience the confusion, feelings of guilt and also the euphoric joys he experiences when daydreaming about the perfect boy.
By the end of the book, I was a total fangirl of Peter Paddington. Regardless of whether or not he loses weight, gets his nipples under control or achieves social stardom – I’m positive he will be a success. Fruit is a fantastic read that covers some pretty important topics for adolescents and adults, but told in an honest and humorous way, that makes this story, and Peter himself, come to life. I was very sorry to turn the final page, and must say that I would be more than ecstatic to follow along on Peter’s further adventures if the author chose to write a sequel ;)
About The Author
Brian Francis has worked as a freelance writer for a variety of magazines and newspapers. Fruit, his first novel, was published in Canada by ECW Press and in the U.S. by MacAdam Cage. The American paperback edition was published by Harper Perennial under the title The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington.
Fruit was named in NOW Magazine’s Top 10 Books of the Year, picked as a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” title and was an Extended Book Sense selected title.
In 2000, Francis received the Emerging Author Award from the Writers’ Union of Canada. You can find his most recent fiction in the influential annual anthology 07: Best Canadian Stories.
Francis grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, and now lives in Toronto.
If you take a look at the Canada Reads page for Brian Francis you can find all kinds of fun things. I especially enjoyed reading his responses on favourite Canadian books – the fact that he broke the rules and mentioned Flowers In The Attic (a non-canuck read) as a guilty pleasure was awesome, he says, “So bad yet so good.” He has also created a playlist for his book, these are so much fun and an added bonus is that the music in keeping with the book’s setting is from the 80’s.
Check out these audio clips of Brian – there is an uncut interview with the author, a brief response to what he thinks his books chances of winning Canada Reads are (I agree that the purple cover definitely gives him an edge on the competition) and also make sure you listen to the 2 clips of the author reading from his book – This guy is fabulous - I loved reading the book, but I’m positive that listening to it would make it so much more awesome! Brian Francis has the perfect voice to fully capture the personality of Peter Paddington. The voice of a story-teller for sure.
About The Panelist
Jen Sookfong Lee
Born and raised in East Vancouver, Jen Sookfong Lee always knew she would be a writer despite her father’s suggestion that she should become a lawyer because “she likes to talk back.” She was 10 years old when she wrote her first short story — a horror story involving a witch, a scrappy little girl and a casserole dish. Jen was featured in Knopf Canada’s New Faces of Fiction campaign when her first novel, The End of East, was published 20 years later, in 2007. Her book spans almost the entire 20th century, and explores Chinese-Canadian history through the eyes of the Chan family.
Jen’s literary repertoire also includes poetry and magazine writing. In 1993, when she was just 17, she was a finalist in the Stephen Leacock Poetry Contest, and her work is included in the poetry anthology From This New World. On the spoken word front, Jen has appeared at literary festivals and reading series across North America, including the Vancouver International Writers Festival and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Jen is the Westcoast Words columnist on CBC Radio One’s afternoon show On the Coast and has occasionally co-hosted CBC’s Studio One Book Club in Vancouver.
Jen Sookfong Lee has her own website, which I highly recommend checking out, where you can read all about her life and her writing. On her blog she has written about her involvement with Canada Reads, including why she came to choose Fruit and how she plans to defend this book. Here is a brief explanation:
Here's my defence of Fruit in a nutshell:
Fruit by Brian Francis should win Canada Reads because every single one of us has felt like a stranger in our own bodies, confounded by our growths and seemingly nonsensical urges. Peter, the novel's 13-year-old narrator, is appalled when his nipples begin talking to him. Don't kid yourself; we've all had moments like this, when hormones and parents and high school all come together in a conspiratorial way to make us feel like aliens who will never, ever fit into the human race. And that's why Fruit should be read by every Canadian, because somewhere, deep inside, we are all awkward adolescents who will never understand what our lives have become. - The Fruit Is Out Of The Bag
Over at the CBC site you can also listen to a very interesting audio clip of Jen Sookfong Lee discussing books, reading and how literature has impacted her life. I especially enjoyed hearing her thoughts on Harriet The Spy, how trashy romances introduced her to sex and how reading a book that featured a Chinese-Canadian character inspired her to write.
Jen Sookfong Lee is the author of the novel The End Of The East.
A moving portrait of three generations of the Chan family living in Vancouver's Chinatown. Sammy Chan was sure she'd escaped her family obligations when she fled Vancouver six years ago, but with her sister's upcoming marriage, her turn has come to care for their aging mother. Abandoned by all four of her older sisters, jobless and stuck in a city she resents, Sammy finds herself cobbling together a makeshift family history and delving into stories that began in 1913, when her grandfather, Seid Quan, then eighteen years old, first stepped on Canadian soil. The End of East weaves in and out of the past and the present, picking up the threads of the Chan family's stories: Seid Quan, whose loneliness in this foreign country is profound even as he joins the Chinatown community; Shew Lin, whose hopes for her family are threatened by her own misguided actions; Pon Man, who struggles with obligation and desire; and Siu Sang, who tries to be the caregiver everyone expects, even as she feels herself unravelling. And in the background, five little girls grow up under the weight of family expectations. As the past unfolds around her, Sammy finds herself embroiled in a volatile mixture of a dangerous love affair, a difficult and duty-filled relationship with her mother, and the still-fresh memories of her father's long illness. An exquisite and evocative debut from one of Canada's bright new literary stars, The End of East sets family conflicts against the backdrop of Vancouver's Chinatown - a city within a city where dreams are shattered as quickly as they're built, and where history repeats itself through the generations. - The End Of The East @ Fantastic Fiction
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