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LADY by Melvin Burgess Kirkus Star


My Life as a Bitch

by Melvin Burgess

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8050-7148-2
Publisher: Henry Holt

“A dog’s days are short, but his moments are pure.” And Burgess’s (Kite, 2000, etc.) narrative never shies from a pure canine experience in this unnerving allegory of a difficult 17-year-old. Sandra Francy covers every meaning in the dictionary for the word “bitch,” even literally being transformed into one by an alcoholic with an unfortunate magical twist. The unflinching Burgess exercises no leash in exploring Sandra’s personality, at once self-centered, cynical, vulgar, rebellious, and highly sexed. She is concerned with freely enjoying her young life, throwing advice and caution to the wind. When she changes into a dog, plainly the lure of the pack and utter freedom of a street dog’s life is little different from the life she was living. However, this is a study of human teenage psychology through a dog’s snout, and Sandra, now “Lady,” must overcome fear while balancing longings for security, her need for family, and the gradual overwhelming urgency of her canine senses. Each scene, whether as bad girl or as bitch, vibrates with verisimilitude, and in either state, Sandra/Lady is little bolstered by the cast of characters as flawed as she: her broken family, her brother whom she misjudges, her best friend, and her boyfriend, both of whom she discards for reasons rational only to a teen battling with an identity crisis. And then there are her friends in the dog world: Toby the magical alchie, and Fella and Mitch, two mutts who also were once people. The target audience may not understand some of the British slang in which Burgess steeps his prose, or why her father suddenly returns from America when she disappears. Or it might be shocked by the frank obsession with sex or even the choices Sandra makes, despite their worldly familiarity. But the shock one feels by the resolution, when the girl is at last finally and naturally true to herself, nips at the heels of the most hard-bitten innocent who refuses to stop and think life through for herself. It is that reader who must wonder and decide which side of the evolutionary fence to inhabit and therefore benefit from this intensely observed cautionary tale. (Fiction. YA)