Ten-year-old Jane finds it hard to be one of the wild Bartolomés. While her parents and brothers love swimming in the surf off the west coast of Vancouver Island, thunderstorms, and surprise encounters with wild animals, such experiences make Jane quietly nervous. She's overheard her mother tell their friends, "We named our daughter Mackenzie Jane Bartolomé, destined to be one of the wild and bold Bartolomés, but… Well, she's quiet. And shy. Timid, I guess. So we called her Jane. Just Jane."
Her twelve-year-old brother BB pokes fun at her for talking to and through Old Moby, a balding puppet, and neither her parents nor her adventurer grandmother begin to understand how very frightened and uncertain Jane often feels. Only Lewis, her six-year-old younger brother, and her best friend, Karen, know that Jane is terrified of the masks that hang in her grandmother's stairwell. Only Lewis and Karen know that she is even more scared of Spirit Man, the carved wooden ancestor spirit that stands in Grandma's bathroom.
At the end of a week-long family holiday at her grandmother's house, during which she has avoided the Spirit Man's bathroom, Jane decides that she is tired of being afraid and finds the courage to face the scowling statue. Recalling Karen's advice, she takes a deep breath, wiggles her bum and sticks out her tongue at him. Then she jumps into the family van for the drive back to Calgary.
The trip has barely begun when Jane starts to regret her taunting of the Spirit Man. The weather turns eerily nasty, and the ferry crossing from Vancouver Island is so turbulent that even the wild Bartolomés get nervous. A strange incident at the bed and breakfast where the family stops, followed by a dangerous roadside explosion convinces the girl that the statue has cursed her.
At first, Karen tries to tell Jane that the mounting list of strange and unfortunate events are no more than coincidences, and then reassures her that her run of bad luck has surely run its course. However, when Jane finds herself in Mrs. Von Hirscherg's class sitting right behind Byron Anderson, the school bully, rather than with Karen in Mr. Ryan's room, and begins to catch glimpses of the Spirit Man, she knows that the problems are simply going to get worse. Though she feels as terrified as ever of her grandmother's statue, Jane knows that she must get to her Grandma's house in Sooke, British Columbia and fix things with the Spirit Man.
Written by Maureen Bush, Cursed! is the story of a Jane, a young girl who has to overcome her fears to face the malevolent spirit who haunts her and who is responsible for a growing list of unfortunate events, from bad weather to household problems and difficulties at school. Though she remains nervous to the end, Jane learns that you don't have to be brave to show courage. A terrific story for readers from Grade 4!
Mackenzie Jane does not like the masks at her grandmother's beachside house in Sooke B.C. The Spirit Man, a carved thigh-high wooden gentleman from Papua New Guinea, is in the bathroom, and almost unavoidable. During her family visits to grandma's house, Jane is tormented by these masks and refuses to look any of them in the eye or acknowledge their presence. Back in Calgary, Jane's friend Kara advises that she must confront the Spirit Man or he will ruin her vacations. After a week, Jane sticks her tongue out at the wooden statue, closes the car door and heads for home.
Once home, Jane is plagued by what she thinks is a curse from her actions towards the mystical man. To begin, she ends up with a horrible teacher at school. Then, during cold winter months, their furnace breaks down, which prompts a renovation, and triggers an infection in her mom's lungs. How will Jane resolve this curse? Through determination and perseverance Jane is able to move beyond the idea of the curse, and develop mature skills that help her in her role as a daughter.
Written in easy to read prose, the setting, timelines and development of the story can easily be discussed among the younger experienced readers, while challenge those just beginning.
Thematic Links: Myths and Legends; Curses
Review by Adriane Pettit
NOVEMBER 12, 2010
***1/2 out of ****
There he stood, my grandmother's Spirit Man. He came up to my thigh, carved out of wood so dark it was almost black, wearing a scowl and a ring through his nose and a grass skirt that should have looked silly but didn't. He looked angry and strong and mean. I tried to swallow, but my throat was too dry.
I stood there, quivering. "Oh, I wish I could be brave Mackenzie Jane," I whispered to myself. I shuddered, took a deep breath, and then all in a rush I wiggled my bum, waggled my fingers, stuck out my tongue and did a little dance. "I'm not scared of you!" I said, although I didn't say it very loud.
Maureen Bush tells the story of young Jane Bartolomé, an inquisitive fifth-grader, who courageously confronts the terrifying Spirit Man statue in her grandmother's bathroom on a family trip to Sooke, southwest Vancouver Island. Jane's curious encounter with the Sprit Man leads to his continuous presence in the daily life of the Bartolomé home where his spirit instigates countless instances of bad luck as he creates a sense of anxiety in young Jane. Bush curiously explores both Jane's vexed relationship with the Spirit Man and, simultaneously, the young girl's individual growth in the face of her greatest fear. Through the perspective of imaginative Jane, Cursed! represents a world of overcoming obstacles.
"A sudden storm swept in as we drove away from Grandma's house. Sheets of rain blew across the highway. Ocean waves smashed and crashed against the shore, carried in on a high tide" and marked the beginning of Jane's anxious relationship with the Spirit Man. Jane fearfully anticipates the Spirit Man's presence in her family home, throughout her school days, and especially when she shuts her eyes to escape the reality of his haunting presence.
Bush curiously constructs Jane's character. This fifth-grader is faced with her biggest fear, Spirit Man, and must develop the courage and assertiveness to meet the Spirit Man head-on in order to obtain a triumphant personal accomplishment. Jane's personal plotting to return the Spirit Man to her grandmother's home, remove his awful curse and, at the same time, restore familiar order occurs as she is faced with: unpleasant weather conditions; missing Halloween trick-or-treating for a case of the chickenpox; sitting beside Byron Anderson, the class bully who pulls her hair in Mrs. Von Hirschberg's fifth-grade class; and other unfortunate circumstances.
Cursed! represents Jane's notable development from a frightened child into a brave young girl who can conquer her greatest and ever-present looming fear: Spirit Man. Bush's story offers readers the opportunity to live vicariously through Jane's journey to self-discovery and, further, experience a thrilling sense of obtaining confidence by overcoming obstacles. Cursed! provides readers insight into the life of fifth-grade Jane — a girl with a vivid imagination and hopeful outlook towards a curse-free future in the Bartolomé home.
Review by Natalie Schembri
Natalie Schembri, a Masters student living in London, ON, is a firm believer and promoter of literature and lifelong learning.