Wendy Phillip’s YA novel Fishtailing is a collection of poems that tell a painful narrative about teen life. The inner turmoil expressed in the poetry paints the undercurrents that the adults either ignore, misunderstand, or are overwhelmed by. The needs are so great, and the students are so many, the adults’ insensitivity is understandable (survival instinct more than anything) but it’s frustrating as well. You want to shout, “Can’t you tell what’s going on here?”
Wendy is a graduate of the UBC MFA in Creative Writing, and I see their interdisciplinary approach echoed in the way poetry and story have combined in a way that is more profound than a strict narrative would have been. The masterful way each persona is crafted delineates a clear voice for each character as the woeful tale unfolds.
Wendy’s years working in high schools is very apparent. This feels real. These kids feel like the complexly burdened teens that stare across their desks at me.
It’s a book that offers a challenge to teachers of teens. The challenge may be too difficult for them to cope with though. Ignorance is bliss.