Summary: As their summer as camp counsellors draws to a close, best friends Jess and Casey find themselves with their most challenging camper yet. Stephanie is an uncooperative eight year-old who likes to stir up trouble whenever she can. At their wits’ end with her, Jess and Casey are almost relieved to be taking their campers on their last camp-out, until one of the girls ends up with appendicitis and Stephanie disappears, only to turn up dead. Casey is arrested, charged with killing Stephanie while Jess was taking the other girl to the hospital, and Jess is left without a best friend, finding herself being taken advantage of by users interested in fame. Although Jess never doubts Casey’s innocence, she continually refuses to defend her or even write to her in prison. With Casey’s court case quickly approaching, Jess must decide if she will change her ways or let her friend down once again.
Number of Pages: 229
Age Range: 13-15
In True Blue by Deborah Ellis, main character Jess is not very likeable. When faced with opportunity after opportunity to make better decisions and stand up for her best friend in the face of her being charged with murder, Jess continually fails to step up and do the right thing. But what I liked about Ellis’ challenging character is that her actions made me think hard about how I would act in the same situation. I’d like to think I would have the strength to make different choices, but I honestly don’t know if my high school self would have been able to do that in the face of peer pressure and loneliness. Ellis’ writing helped me have empathy for Jess, and to continually hope one day she would turn her life around. Perhaps though I am seeing this the wrong way though. Perhaps when Jess leaves town and starts working at the restaurant, that is a sign of her packing up and refusing to play anymore.
My favourite character was Jess’s mom. I loved the comment Casey’s lawyer made about sanity seeming insane in an insane world. Through Jess’s mother was crazy in some ways, her heart and empathy were boundless, leading her to try and make things up to Casey’s parents for the horrible way they were being treated by the townspeople of Galloway. Unfortunately, her giving turned manic and required her to be hospitalized, but my heart just broke when I read about her under the fridge because she was trying to give it away to the Whites.
Ellis titles her book True Blue, implying that though Jess is not the true blue friend she should be, there are others in Casey’s life who are, helping her through her ordeal. Casey emerges from her experience like a butterfly from a cocoon, changed forever, but ultimately untouchable and unaffected by those around her.
I enjoyed reading Ellis’ book for a second time, because it gave me a chance to mull it over and see the characters in a clearer light. I didn’t need Jess to be likeable to be drawn into the story, and this time because I already knew the ending, I was able to do a closer reading of how Jess was being influenced by different people.
I’d recommend True Blue for young to mid teen readers.
“Something special, something private, which had remained a secret between us all these years, was now out in the open for the world to see and laugh at.
I leaned against the newspaper box and vomited all over it.” – Jess from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 92
“‘What if I turn out like my mom?’ I used to ask Casey. ‘What if I turn out like my dad?’
‘What if you wake up one morning and you’re a giant cockroach?’ Casey would answer.
That answer always gave me great comfort. Some things you can control, some things you can’t. For the time being, I wasn’t like either of my parents and I wasn’t a cockroach. I could go on with that.” – Conversation between Jess and Casey from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 97
“Even though it seems to happen a lot, you know – school shootings and things – children killing children is news. I don’t know why. Children can be terrorists. I think adults block that out of their memories and create instead this picture of childhood as a time of joy and innocence. They forget about being bullied, being tormented, being left out. They forget the violence on the schoolyard and in the hall between classes – body slams and kicks, and hard things flying at your head for no reason you can see.
Why do people think children can’t be violent? Children are people. People are violent.” – Jess from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 110
“Mela stood up. ‘I won’t repeat any of this to Casey. She wouldn’t believe me anyway. She knows what it means to be a friend. At least I have your mother as a witness.’
‘My mother is not well,’ I said.
‘Your mother is well enough,’ Meta said, putting on her jacket. ‘Sanity looks like madness in an insane world.'” – Conversation between Mela, Casey’s lawyer, and Jess from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 127
“Things started disappearing from the house. Mom had been taking casseroles and muffins over to the Whites for a while, but that was no longer enough for her. She emptied all the food from our cupboards and took it to Casey’s house. She took them other things as well – our good china, the toaster oven, lamps, my old toys, anything she could carry. It’s like she was saying, ‘Here, take this, let me try to make up for all the bad things the town is doing to you.'” – Jess from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 155
“Miss Burke kept talking. ‘I have been on this Earth for many more years than any of you, more than anyone else in this school. I have seen injustices visited upon the world by greed and ignorance. I have seen the world explode in war and witnessed the sad march of humanity struggle with starvation and unnatural disaster. Throughout the whole sad history of the human race, there have been moments when things could have gone the other way, when individuals could have chosen a different path.'” – Miss Burke from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, pages 174-175
“‘A school is a community, just like a town or a city – any town or city, but we have an advantage. We are an enclosed community. We can set our own standards. We have a chance to be better in here than the world is outside. Do we dare take a chance? Are we brave enough?'” – Miss Burke from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 175
“Dishonesty is a fungus, I’ve discovered. Once it settles into your soul, it just keeps growing and clinging to everything.” – Jess from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 192
“Shame flooded through me. ‘How can I face her?’
Mrs. Keefer was quiet for a moment. Then she said, ‘Do you remember the inscription on the plaque in the center of the ten willows?’
‘Of course. “On the willows, we hung up our lyres, for our captors demanded songs, and our tormenters, mirth.”‘
‘Do you know what it means?’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘It means when people who are doing wrong want us to do something to please them, we don’t have to do it. We have a choice. We can pack up our lyres and refuse to play.'” – Conversation between Jess and Mrs. Keefer from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 214
“I remind myself that I’m the same person, in or out of prison. There are bugs everywhere, and my life, my passion, my self, will not be ruined unless I let it be ruined.” – Casey from True Blue by Deborah Ellis, page 227