Queen of Everything: Reviews « Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti

Queen of Everything: Reviews

Kirkus Reviews:
Alternating between pithy humor and ominous foreboding, high-school junior Jordan MacKenzie’s voice describes her life, family, and friends in this gothic with an edge. The edge is from her own witty commentary on life on Parrish Island, an imaginary community located off the coast of Washington State in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The bringing together of sadness and foreboding with humor is reminiscent of Elvin in Chris Lynch’s Slot Machine (1995) although Jordan appears to be less intentionally working at being funny. It is simply her take on life: her values, her awareness of pretensions, oddities, and incongruencies. The characters leap to life (including the dogs), as Jordan details the daily events that inexorably lead first to tragic events, and ultimately to a rescue of a sort. Threading throughout is the awareness that horror is ahead. When it does arrive, it doesn’t quite seem as ghastly as expected. Most of the plot is driven by actions of the adults in the story, but when Jordan chooses to act, she’s obviously learned a trick or two about manipulation and getting what you want. She’s chosen to live with her father as the more normal one of her parents, but he becomes obsessed with a married woman and Jordan’s life spirals out of control. While not the focus, her own first miserable experiences with sex and the death of a grandparent are encompassed in this somewhat long, but nonetheless fast-paced debut. Humor gets little respect, but Caletti expertly succeeds in capturing the way a smart teen can grasp and skewer her world and what passes for everyday normal in a wry tone that never fails to recognize the seriousness of the situation. Cosmic comedy. (Fiction. YA)

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):
The normally stable father of high school junior Jordan becomes involved with a married woman, then kills someone. Told as a flashback through Jordan’s first-person narrative (although Jordan does not reveal at the beginning who dies), the novel takes place during the summer on a fictional island in western Washington. Debut YA novelist Caletti peoples Jordan’s world with fascinating characters, including a hippie mother who runs a bed and breakfast with her kinetic artist husband, and her best friend, status-focused Melissa, who works with Jordan at a weight loss center run by an eccentric Christian couple. Jordan herself can be funny, making light of her situation with caustic remarks (“He was an optometrist for God’s sake” she says when people ask her what her murderous father was like), and also vulnerable (“That’s not what people want to hear-that my father was just a normal guy whom I loved, love, with all my heart”) as she leads readers carefully towards her eventual realization of her own identity. She also weaves in pieces of advice she’s picked up from Big Mama, a wise, warm-hearted fishery worker who often incorporates salmon into her lessons. Two subplots involving Jordan’s romantic interests create unnecessary distractions, but captivating details make this scandalous story seem all too real, and Jordan’s magnetic voice marks Caletti as a writer to watch. (Ages 12 up)
© Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

School Library Journal:
From the beginning of this absorbing novel, readers know that Jordan’s father will kill the husband of the woman with whom he’s having an affair. The tone of the story, however, is unexpectedly light as Caletti introduces the teen’s free-spirited mother, ultra-religious boss, colorful neighbors, and optometrist father. Caught up in her own romantic dilemma-choosing between a cruel but good-looking classmate and the quirky, caring brother of her best friend-Jordan is slow to realize that her father is having an affair with glamorous Gayle D’Angelo. In the last 100 pages, she must come to terms with what her father has done and find a way to rebuild her own life. Most of the novel, however, deals with her day-to-day life, friendships, and family relationships. Caletti lovingly describes the setting, a small town on the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound, and Jordan’s several adult mentors are well developed as characters. Her own poor choices at times run parallel to her father’s, as she dates and has a disastrous sexual encounter with a boy she knows is bad news before finally wising up. Through it all, she manages to observe the people around her with love and amusement. Teens will gain insight into how obsessive love can drive even ordinary-seeming individuals to commit terrible acts. (Grade 9 Up )
– Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
© Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

“Nothing like that happens to people like me, not to people like my dad, who changes the oil in his car and pays his bills on time… I mean, imagine it. Your father. Your father. I can tell you, though, it does happen. To people like me.” Up until now, 17-year-old Jordan’s biggest problem in life was dealing with her hippy-dippy mom, the kind of woman who “might suddenly flop out a boob” to nurse her little brother. She much preferred the company of her calm, measured father, “a Shredded Wheat and All-Bran guy,” who never embarrassed her in front of her friends. That’s why Jordan is stunned when her nice, divorced dad starts acting like a lovelorn teenager over one of their neighbors, Gayle D’Angelo. True, Gayle is pretty, but she’s also married. Too proud to let anyone in their cloistered Pacific Northwest island community know, Jordan decides to handle the situation herself. She tries everything from directly confronting her dad, to dating local thug Kale Kramer in a misguided attempt to gain her father’s attention. But nothing seems to work, and when Gayle’s husband goes missing and the police name Jordan’s dad as a suspect, Jordan’s life rapidly spins out of control.

Emotional and intense, Deb Caletti’s first book for young adults is reminiscent of other recent teen psychological page-turners like Carol Plum-Ucci’s What Happened to Lani Garver and Aimee by Mary Beth Miller. Jordan is a realistic heroine that older female teen readers will sympathize with and cheer for as she struggles to understand this suddenly complex world of adult motivations and desires. (Ages 13 and older)
– Jennifer Hubert

Jordan MacKenzie’s dad was so…normal. He was an optometrist — certainly not the type anyone would think would go out and do something irrational. Jordan got along with him much better than she got along with her hippie mom, who threw a party when Jordan got her first period and married a “kinetic artist,” whose metal sculptures decorate the lawn and spin in the trees on their property. Her dad is the last person Jordan ever suspects would do anything drastic, but her view of him is forced to change when he starts dating Gayle D’Angelo. Gayle is charming, beautiful and makes Jordan’s father act like a silly teenager with a crush. That, of course, would all be fine and good if Gayle wasn’t married. As the summer progresses, Jordan’s father falls further into his obsession with Gayle D’Angelo and it leads to a horrific ending.

There’s a lot more to this book than just Jordan’s parents, though. She has a great best friend, Melissa. Too bad she’s also interested in Melissa’s brother, who’s still recovering from an incident in which he was trapped in the woods for six days with no food. And who’s interested in her? Kale Kramer — the cutest, most lusted after, most annoying boy in school. It figures. As Jordan’s father gets more caught up in his affair with Gayle, Jordan tries drastic measures to get his attention. Of course, her actions parallel his and this leads to a mess of emotions and family conflict. Every character in this book is unique and voiced well. It’s a book that requires some thought, but where thoughts are concerned, it gives as well as it takes.
– Carlie Kraft
© Copyright 2003, Teenreads.com. All rights reserved.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
(Jan 2003 cover and The Big Picture review)

There are a lot of people on the edge in young-adult novels, especially young people struggling with serious problems, risking life and future. Though adults too are beset by demons, acute crises are generally the province of the young, even when it’s in response to the troubles of their elders.

Caletti’s novel initially looks like it’s going to fit that solid and reliable pattern. High-school-junior Jordan has long been at odds with her bohemian mother; after one fight too many (during which her mother calls her “the queen of everything”), Jordan walks out on her mother—and her mother’s live-in boyfriend, their impending baby, and their motley crew of boarders—to live with her staid and orderly optometrist father. She’s somewhat concerned about her grandfather, who’s continually antagonizing his boss at the gas station he formerly owned, and she’s sliding into a halfway romance with Kale, a boy she largely despises but enjoys physically. Pushing its way out from beneath those worries, however, is something much darker and more threatening: her father’s increasing obsession with the elegant Gayle D’Angelo, a married neighbor. Jordan watches in dismay as her mild-mannered dad turns into another person, becoming cocky (“Apparently he’d had a little taste of being an asshole and found it to his liking”) and heedless as the affair begins, then disturbingly desperate as Gayle plays him against her husband, until finally he erupts, leaving Mr. D’Angelo dead, himself in jail, and Jordan trying to pick up the pieces of her life.

Caletti sets up Jordan’s narration as the ubiquitous school assignment, making the climax clear from the beginning, but the inevitability only adds to the plot’s momentum. The book unfolds the drama slowly and suspensefully, creating an everyday teen world that’s perceptive, funny, and nuanced in its own right, then shadowing that vision with the gathering darkness of the impending tragedy (“‘Nothing’s going to change,’ I said. Which are about the stupidest four words in the English language”). There’s a rawness to the portrait of Jordan’s father, unable and perhaps even unwilling to pull himself out of his Gayle-centered spiral, hardly seeing his daughter or the consequences of his actions. There’s a parallel vulnerability to the portrait of Jordan herself, a normal kid who sees that her father may take her forever out of the realm of the normal (she’s frightened by the “sudden realization that terrible things might not just be for other people”); there’s true pathos in her complete helplessness (“I wondered if I should call someone. I wondered who exactly I would call”) in the face of creeping disaster and authenticity in her puny efforts to forestall it (she even tells his parents in the desperate hope that they can check their son’s madness).

This is indeed tasty melodrama, and the book’s paperback-original format and eyecatching cover make it an attractive and appealing package. There’s more than mere voyeurism here, however. While there’s a fair amount of literature devoted to describing young people’s struggle for individual identity during adolescence, there’s less on the recognition that adults, even one’s own parents, are separate agents too; that their lives may also change in stunning ways that have nothing do with their kids but nonetheless changes their lives as a consequence; that, as Jordan says, “people you love can be the biggest strangers.” Jordan fortunately discovers both kinds of individual identity, managing to differentiate between her father’s irrevocable direction and her own reversible one and thereby to pull out of her own spiral, surviving “broken but still whole.”

Ultimately, this is a story all the more compelling (and all the darker) for its firm grasp on reality and the utter credibility of its vision.
– Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Gr. 8-12. This lengthy, entertaining, atmospheric first novel explores the issues of trust and betrayal. Seventeen-year-old Jordan McKenzie lives on a small island in Puget Sound with her calm, reliable, divorced father. Her mother, a determinedly free spirit, runs a boarding house filled with eccentric characters. Then Jordan’s world falls apart when her father falls in love with a beautiful, wealthy, married woman. Meanwhile, Jordan’s beloved, feisty grandfather dies unexpectedly, and she loses her virginity with a popular but sadistic boy. Jordan’s authentic teenage voice–self-absorbed, sarcastic, naive–will hold readers, as will the emotional issues of sadness and abandonment, which pack more punch than the sensationalist elements of the plot.
– Debbie Carton
© Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved.