Monthly Archives: October 2008

Canadian Review of Materials Reviews Perfect Cut

CM, Volume XV Number 4, October 10, 2008

The Perfect Cut.

Julie Burtinshaw.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2008.
308 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-55192-816-6.

Subject Heading:
Self – mutilation – Juvenile fiction.
Teenagers and death – Juvenile fiction.

Grades 10-12 / Ages 15-17.

Review by Myra Junyk.

*** ½ /4


Bryan had been in enough of his friends’ houses to realize that he had a lot more stuff than most kids his age. No one could ever accuse Dad of not being a hard worker – the guy never stopped. Money made their world turn, yet nobody ever talked about it in their house, just like nobody wore their shoes inside, or drank straight out of the milk jug or left the toilet seat up. Dad made the rules, and they followed them. In exchange, Bryan had all the privacy in the world, and that meant he could pretty much do as he pleased without having to explain himself.

And he had secrets – stuff he’d rather keep to himself. Who didn’t? Secrets – even the good ones – set you apart from others. And the bad ones? They ate away at your core. Bryan knew this from experience. In fact, sometimes he imagined his insides being gnawed away by the things he couldn’t tell anybody – the dark snippets of information that set him apart from others – from Mom and Dad.

Not that they cared enough to ask. An invisible border divided the house into two countries: the upstairs belonged to Bryan, the downstairs to his parents. Bryan knew there were times when his mother ventured into his territory to visit The Michelle Shrine and every couple of days, Stella, their housekeeper, climbed the stairs to the second floor with bucket and mop, broom and dustpan in hand.

Bryan has a dangerous secret. In order to deal with the pain of his grief for his older sister Michelle, Bryan has become totally withdrawn, abuses alcohol and uses a razor blade to cut himself. His high grades in grade 12 have deteriorated; he no longer communicates with his parents; he has broken up with his brilliant girlfriend Jessie. The relationship between his controlling father and submissive mother is also deteriorating quickly as they, too, try to deal with their grief. Although Burtinshaw tackles a very difficult subject – self-mutilation – her novel is not cloying or depressing. At the beginning of the novel, Bryan is wallowing in his grief. The graphic descriptions of his cutting episodes are not for the weak stomach. Readers will be strongly affected by these descriptions – particularly if they know someone who engages in this kind of behaviour. However, Bryan does try to get help. He has had several therapists, but none of them have helped him until he meets Dr. Spahic. He makes a connection with her and seems to start living again! He befriends a young runaway, Chris, who lives on the streets and is addicted to crystal meth. His ex-girlfriend, Jessie, even comes back into his life to try to help him work through his issues. By the end of the novel, Bryan has survived a suicide attempt brought on by his anti-depressant medication. Will he learn to cope with his grief? Will his parents’ marriage survive? What is the terrible secret he is keeping about the night that Michelle died?

The writer’s narrative technique is very interesting. Chapters vary in length depending on the need for detail. Some chapters are as short as a paragraph while others go on for several pages. Many paragraphs have only one or two word sentences. This choppy style is very effective to portray the agitation and anxiety felt by Bryan as he tries to cope with his life. The writer also uses italics to give the reader insight into Bryan’s innermost thoughts. As well, the two pivotal letters at the end of the novel – from Michelle and Bryan – are written in italics. This kind of font differentiation indicates crucial information for readers. Readers may want to re-read these sections and think carefully about them if they are to truly understand Bryan’s feelings and emotions.

Bryan is a complex, moody but realistic young man. His struggles to deal with his grief for his older sister will resonate with readers. Michelle was also a cutter, and she becomes a very real presence for readers. According to the information that Burtinshaw provides at the end of the novel, Bryan and Michelle’s self-destructive behaviour is more common than we think. She estimates that between 1 – 10 % of the teenage population is/are engaged in cutting behaviour. This novel brings this kind of behaviour out into the open. Burtinshaw lists several websites which would be useful, “If you self-injure, or you know someone who does…” Dealing with these complex mental health issues should not be secretive. We all need to know the indicators of this behaviour so that we can help those engaging in it!

Highly Recommended.

Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.

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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364 Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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Bedouin Soundclash Concert Stopped in Vancouver

Just sitting here watching the news when I saw that the free Bedouin Soundclash concert at Insite in Vancouver has been halted by the police. Apparently, the fans are kicking it up in the streets, while the band is up on the roof for safety reasons.

CBC claims that they did not have the correct permits to have an open-air free concert, prior to their playing the Commodore tonight.

Sad — they did this to support Insite, Canada’s only safe injection site — much hated by the Tories, and not to be into conspiracies, but it does make one wonder.

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Post Laser Eye Surgery — One Week and thanking IBM

I’m blurry eyed, but had the pleasure of donating all of my glasses to third world countries. A few people will be seeing the world more clearly through discount gucci frames and I hope they love them. I won’t miss them. I have to wear sun glasses outside for the next couple of weeks, and for the first time in my life I was able to pick up a pair for under $25 courtesy Blue Ruby.

In the end, Dr. Lin opted for PRK over Lasik. To quote from his info sheet: Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) uses an excimer laser to reshape the front surface of the cornea. This argon fluoride laser was developed by IBM in the early 1980s to etch silicon chips. It was subsequently discovered that the laser can be used to cleanly and precisely remove living tissue…A thin (.25 micron) layer of tissue is removed with each pulse…the central cornea can be sculpted, changing the curvature and refractive power of the cornea…LASIK is a more complex and more invasive procedure. The use of a microkeratome carries possible risks that do not occur with PRK.

As far as I can see, the major disadvantage of PRK is the recovery time is a lot longer and there are many eye drops involved — a regime that will last a few months. It actually takes 1-3 months for stable vision to occur. Right now, I wake up in the morning and my vision is very clear, but becomes blurry as the hours pass. If I rest my eyes, I achieve more clarity.

I can’t emphasize how wonderful these moments of 20/20 vision are and as each day goes by, I see better and better.

The operation was painless, but I really didn’t like the smell of burning tissue — knowing that it was, after all, mine. Fear kept me frozen in position, and it was over quickly, but hey — why can’t the clinic provide a lavender scented mask or something like that? Otherwise I have zero complaints and urge all of you who are considering either LASIK or PRK to go ahead.

I’ll keep you posted.


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Curator of the Morris Belkin Gallery Writes to Harper

Here is the letter to Prime Minister Harper from Scott Watson, Director and Curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia. Remember on Tuesday, vote for the arts — and that means anything but conservative.

7 October 2008

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I was impressed that so much time was given over to the arts on last Thursday’s debate. But from your remarks you seem not to know which programs you cut or what those programs did. One of these was the PromArt Program run by the Department of External Affairs and International Trade, where it was once thought that promoting Canadian art abroad advanced international trade. Let me give you an example of why they thought that.

Last year, I attended the opening of a retrospective by Stan Douglas in Stuttgart, Germany. The exhibition was in two institutions and occupied over thirty separate gallery rooms. In terms of space and financial resources (the show had a budget of 750,000 Euros) this was a huge exhibition of a Canadian artist, larger in fact than any Canadian institution has the resources to mount.

Why should PromArt have given $40,000 towards this project? Stuttgart is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and the corporate headquarters of Siemens, Porsche, Daimler, Bosch, Celesio, et al. The opening ceremony was attended by more than 500 people who represented Stuttgart’s business and cultural interests. They were addressed by the Foreign Minister of Germany and the Canadian Ambassador, as well as the museum curators and the artist.

This is the program your people tried to discredit ideologically for supporting punk bands or sending writers to Cuba. Canada will now be the only G8 country without a program to promote its arts and culture abroad. I do not think withdrawing from the deep connection between business, the arts and national prestige is what we ought to be doing in a time of economic crisis – or, indeed, at any time.


Scott Watson
UBC Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

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Laser Eye Surgery Update

Because I decided to visit the East Coast, I had to delay my laser eye surgery until next week. I go in on Wednesday, and the doctor has opted to do only my right eye — so I’m saving a lot of money, and hopefully a lot of down time.

Apparently, I won’t be able to go near the computer for a few days, but as soon as I am able, I’ll report on how I’m feeling, pain level etc…

Although I am legally not permitted to drive without specs, I have a low prescription and am a perfect candidate for having only one eye done. Of course, it this doesn’t work, I can always return and get the other one fixed up.


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This I learned in NFLD: ABC (Anything But Conservative)

But how do we, as responsible voters with an interest in the arts and in the environment, know how to vote strategically? I live in Vancouver Quadra — described in the media as a “toni(y) riding, or in other words, a riding made up of wealthy and therefore it is assumed, right-winged Vancouverites. Well, I know lots of people in my ‘hood, and not all are rolling in cash; many are artists, writers, university students, nannies and nine 2 fivers.

None of these people want to see a Conservative candidate representing Quadra, and there have been many discussions about who to vote for to avoid this ever happening. According to the website,, those of us concerned about the future of this planet need to throw our votes behind Joyce Murray — liberal candidate.

If you want to know how to cast your vote strategically in your riding, visit, All you have to do is put in your postal code to find out how to do the responsible thing – ABC

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Back to the Other Coast

I’m leaving St. John’s this morning for an eleven hour transit to Vancouver. I will return to this amazing province — hopefully in June so that I can see the icebergs and humpbacks at the same time. Have been blessed with sunshine and warm temperatures, although the wind here is brutal.

For chowhounds around the world, we found a great little cafe/restaurant about 20 minutes out of St. John’s on Portugal Cove Road, called Ferry Last Stop Cafe. The ferry to Bell Island (of pit pony and mining lore) leaves from Portugal Cove, hence the cafe name. If interested, they do have a face book group.

When we got to the cafe in the early morning, it was closed, but typical of NFLD hospitality, they opened up their doors and created a delicious breakfast of french toast, fritattas and great coffee. Everything is organic and homemade including the flax and grain bread which I’m still drooling over.

It felt like eating in a good friend’s home!

Also discovered en route: Those big blue signs on the side of the highway that say Subway, don’t refer to a metro, rather to the fast food sandwich joint — don’t know how they got so much exposure, but don’t be fooled. 🙂

I’ve got lots more to say, but need to get to the airport. Overall general impression of this province is easy to state; I love it here and will be back.

BTW, there is a great tourism office here — we should have checked it out at the beginning of our trip — great free maps and books loaded with info of the whole area. That said, perhaps by doing it blind, we saw things not normally in the guide books.

Back to the rain.

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The Moose Hunting Season Opened today in Newfoundland

We saw one moose today and many more hunters. This is new sight for a city girl, and it made me kind of nervous – all those men armed, riding ATVs and dressed like trees.

The moose we saw was headless and on the back of a 57 GMC pick-up truck, which seemed a bit of a cliche, but not in a bad way. The hunters were kind enough to let us take some pics, which I will post later on my web albums. You know, I enjoy a good t-bone every now again, so all the power to these guys — at least they know where their food comes from.

We drove up to Ferryland today, via Cape Spears — the most eastern point in Canada. The concierge said it the trip would take us a couple of hours, but we were gone for ten. I suppose you could do it in two, but why would you want to? It’s way to wonderful and wild here to be in a hurry.

And the wind. I think it would drive a person crazy after a while, especially if mixed with rain, but for a day, and in the hot and unexpected October sunshine it is an amazing thing to feel it, hear it and see it. I was afraid I would be blown off a cliff…

My Toronto pal won the “President of the Tourists are Stupid Club,” with this question as she peered through her binos at a distant island: “Are those a herd of polar bears, or are they are sheep. It’s hard to tell…No, they’re way to big to be sheep” Okay, enough said about Central Canada. I don’t want to bash our home and native land.

And, I did ask the waiter at The Hungry Fisherman in St. John’s (food over-rated and over priced, but the world’s best waiter by far), if the scallops on offer were Digby. His reply: Now, darlin’ why would I go all the way to Nova Scotia to get ma scallops.” Good point and now I know.

And speaking of eating, next time you are here, check out Tangled in Blue for a great, well priced meal in a funky Victorian house in St. John’s. Great service, atmosphere and perfectly cooked seafood. Dinner for two with desert to die for and a bottle of wine: $100.

Stopped into a grocery store and had a long conversation without understanding a single word…

Hiked up to the lighthouse in Ferryland after a harrying cliff side drive up a rocky, rutted track — sorry Avis…but once we started, there was no turning back.
Can’t even begin to list all the great people we’ve met. Thanks to all of you Newfoundlanders. More to come on Sunday.

Happy 213th birthday Alexander Keith’s. All of St. John’s raised a glass to you.


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Day Three: Newfoundland

I regret that I have had not had enough time to blog, but in lieu of that, I have walked every inch of St. John’s and the only reason I am back in the hotel at the moment is the big blister on my right foot.

Except for the cod tongues, there’s not much about this island that I don’t love. We’ve rented a car for the weekend with plans to chase down puffins and some fresh lobster — brilliantly sunny here and temps hovering at 19 degrees.

There is an amazing ship in town — rumour has it that Elton is staying on it, but that might not be true — some people say he flys to NY after each concert. He’s played here two nights in a row and has quite a celeb status. Anyway, the ship is owned by a Russian billionaire — among five other craft on board, there is a sub, a sail boat and a big heli pad. It’s quite nice and comfortable, but no matter how hard we try, nobody has invited us aboard. I’ll post pics in my web albums when we get home.

This is a safe city and one filled with humour. I especially like the ABC party, which seems to be the most popular political party. ABC = Anything But Conservative…

The great thing is, that St. John’s is actually better than what I imagined. It’s filled with talented artists and musicians and great little pubs offering excellent beer.

People say it is similar to Iceland, so I’m getting a taste of what my winter will look like and it is all good. The sea is cold and when the waves break they are an icy blue. It is quite different from the Pacific — somehow more hostile and intimidating. I don’t want to leave here without going out on a boat, but the winds are high and I’m not sure that will be possible.

More later…

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