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Boy Proof and Nellcott Is My Darling: Soul sisters

Soul sisters

Boy Proof, by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick Press), 203 pages

Cecil Castellucci and Golda Fried publish in parallel

When Cecil Castellucci’s Boy Proof and Golda Fried’s Nellcott Is My Darling both landed on my desk at the same time, I chalked it up to synchronicity. The two former Montreal residents who now live south of the border have each composed charming novels that explore the rites of passage of their unique narrators. While reading the two books in tandem, I began to see Boy Proof’s protagonist, Victoria (a.k.a. Egg), and the narrator of Nellcott Is My Darling, Alice, as alter egos of one another. As both novels are exquisitely penned with panache, the feeling of zeitgeist was further intensified.

In Boy Proof, Egg takes her name after a kick-ass heroine of one of her favourite sci-fi flicks. The Los Angeles high school senior is so deliberately aloof and indifferent that she’s contrived herself as boy proof. That is until Max Carter comes around and shakes up Egg’s world in a way that she neither expected nor is initially capable of dealing with. Also somewhat boy proof is Golda Fried’s Alice. The McGill University freshman is on her own for the first time and struggles with self-doubt, denial and her newfound freedom. Her misapprehensions about love and intimacy culminate in her ill-fated romance with rock’n'roll dreamer and record store clerk Nellcott.

In both novels, the authors’ exploration of awakening sexuality mixed with teenage awkwardness rings authentic. In Boy Proof, Victoria’s coming of age is attached with a moral. Her lack of empathy is the inhibiting force that undermines her heart’s desire.

Nellcott Is My Darling, by Golda Fried (Coach House Books), 182 pages

When her friends finally tire of her selfishness and begin ignoring her, a metamorphosis toward a person who relates with others occurs. Egg laments… "Still no one is talking to me. A month ago this would have been preferable. Now it is torture. The days get measured by the things that don’t happen anymore. Like Max’s head never turns in my direction to say something clever. Rue never pats the empty seat next to her at lunch."

In Nellcott Is My Darling, Alice’s character is the flip side of Egg. Too sympathetic, the intimacy she craves disappears in a myriad confusions. She succumbs too much to peer pressure, regards the opinions of others too highly and as a consequence, her journey toward self-actualization is connected to her overcoming her unhealthy dependence on Nellcott.

When her friend, Allegra, confronts Alice about her dysfunctional one-sided relationship, she tries to deny it. Allegra calls Nellcott a creep. "I mean really, Alice. What does he do for you anyway? Does he brush your hair? Does he rub your feet? Does he make coffee for you in the morning? Does he pack you a lunch? Does he run you a hot bath?" The only thing remotely romantic that the sex-crazed Nellcott does is serenade Alice with his guitar while she takes a shower.

Although Alice and Victoria are essentially opposites – one is the doormat, the other the boot that kicks in the door – by the end of each novel both characters seem to grow into the qualities that the other possesses. As Alice develops will and conviction, Victoria learns to put her ego aside. The two novels are yin and yang components as they relate to one another… a zeitgeist that sees Fried and Castellucci mining the same vein of inspiration from two different directions.

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