Friday, November 03, 2006

This Is All

Chambers, Aidan. 2006. This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn.

This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn is a massive undertaking for almost any reader numbering over 800 pages long (808 to be precise). Told in first person narrative, This Is All is the diary--or edited diary--of our young heroine Cordelia. Preparing for the birth of her first child, this nineteen-year-old decides to make a gift of her 'pillow books' to her daughter for her sixteenth birthday. Keeping in mind her future audience, Cordelia relates her very personal and intimate story chronicling her life from the age of 15 to the age of 19. Drawing from her pillow books (as best as I can tell something very similar to a diary format), she preserves her teenage years for posterity weaving new commentary with old entries. The book is divided into six parts. And each one tells a unique part of the story.

But what is the book about? Her friendships, her loves, her heartaches, her confusion, her search for meaning in life, and just relating very intimate and detailed portraits of growing up: some funny, some embarrassing, some sad. Within its pages, the reader feels Cordelia Kenn isn't a figment of some writer's imagination--but that she is a real woman.

There is the Cordelia I show to others. And there is the Cordelia, the real Cordelia, the private, secret Cordelia, who I never show to anyone. Well, here I am, the secret Cordelia laid bare for you, embarrassing flaws and all (485).

The fact is, I've never even as a child, felt that I'm only one self, only one person. I've always felt I'm quite a few more than one. For example, there's my jokey self, there's my morose and fed-up self, and there's my lewd and disgusting self. There's my clever-clogs self and my fading-violet-who-can't-make-up-her-mind-about-anything self. There's my untidy-clothes-everwhere-all-over-my-room self, and my manically tidy self where I want my room to be minimalist and Zen to the nth degree. There's my confident, arrogant self and my polite and reasonable and good-listener self. There's my self-righteous self and my wickedly bad self, my flaky self and my sentimental self. There are selfs I like and selfs I don't like. There's my little-girl self who likes to play silly games and there's my old-woman self when I'm quite sure I'm about eighty and edging towards the geriatric. And especially there's my Little C self and my Big C self, both of whom will make their entrance into my story soon. The self on show and in action at any moment depends on where I am, who I'm with, and the circumstances of the situation, and my mood at the time. Are you the same, or is it only me who's like this? (5).

Aidan Chambers is a talented writer, winner of three prestigious awards: The Carnegie Medal (1999) Hans Christian Andersen Award (2002) and the Michael Printz Award (2003). His most noteworthy book is the award-winning Postcards from No Man's Land. While the length of the book may seem daunting or overwhelming at first, dedicated readers (and those who search out long books) will find This Is All to be worth the time and effort.

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