Being yourself, Maggie Hablous
Sylvie the Second
Sylvie the Second is a young adult novel which explores self-esteem, pressures felt by teenage girls in modern New Zealand, and the impact of mental health on families. Kaeli Baker makes these heavy themes easier for teens to swallow through the relatable character, Sylvie.
Sylvie is a teenage girl struggling with all the normal teenage issues such as identity, friendships, and school. She also has to struggle with the added pressure of her sister Cate, who has paranoid schizophrenia. At the beginning of the novel, it is this mental illness that sees Cate admitted into the psychiatric ward at the hospital. Sylvie feels invisible to her parents who only seem to spend time with Cate and fighting each other.
I believe that Sylvie is a character that many teenage girls will be able to relate to. Baker writes the novel in the first-person view. As a reader, this helped me to understand Sylvie and her mentality.
I thought Baker did a very good job of writing from a young person’s view, although at times I did not quite understand fully the motives behind Sylvie’s actions. An example is when, at the beginning of the book, Sylvie runs home crying after being insulted by a classmate. I would have loved more explanation as why the specific insult hurt her so much and believe some more in-depth information about the relationship between the two girls would have helped me to understand Sylvie’s feelings.
I liked that a message in the book was to always be yourself. Although Sylvie tried desperately to become someone new, someone she believed would be more liked and respected, at the end of the book she understood it was best to be herself. It did feel it was a shame that it was only after gaining validation from a boy that Sylvie finally understood this. I understand that her close and loyal friend Belle also helped her come to this conclusion, but as a feminist I would have much preferred Sylvie to have realised this before she began seeing Adam.
I think that the book is an important read for young teens as it covered topics that are both common and dangerous in our modern world. The novel discussed underage drinking, non-consensual sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and self-harm. Although these are highly sensitive topics, Baker managed to explore them in a tasteful way which will not scare off readers but, instead, will teach them valuable lessons. Due to the fact the novel explores such topics, I would recommend the book to an audience of 14 years and older.
I enjoyed that, while reading Sylvie the Second, I saw the main character grow and change. It was nice to leave Sylvie at the end of the book not perfect, but a lot happier with herself and surrounded by family and friends who supported her. I would recommend this book to any teens looking for a fairly easy read and interesting character development.
Maggie Hablous is seventeen years old and from Wellington.