The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee - Barry Jonsberg

Candice Phee is the definition of quirky, but she is also a genuinely caring and determined young girl. She means well, even if her actions don't always make sense to those around her. She feels as though her family is falling apart since the death of her younger sister as a child. Not only that, but she is is also dealing with a fish with an identity problem and a friend who believes he is from an alternate dimension. Candice desperately wants her father and her Rich Uncle Brian to get along again, and very much hopes that her mother will stop being depressed.

The narrative is told as an alphabetical autobiography that is supposed to be a school assignment. Her voice is, as I said before, rather quirky, but in a way that is endearing as well as hilarious. The reader will feel for Candice's inability to understand why others find her funny, and yet will find great joy in her observations on life, her family, her friends (and those who might not realize they are her friends.) Even the fish has a fully rounded story within this autobiography.
There are people, I am told, who enjoy cooking, who do it every night. They slice and dice, they top and tail, they braise and stew, they poach and steam, all the time laughing like idiots in a delirium of happiness.... 
The recipe called for me to slice the peppers, but I took no chances and sliced my fingers as well. This slowed me down as every ten seconds I had to get a new Band-Aid and try to stem the flow of blood. Even so, by the time I had the ingredients ready ... the kitchen was the scene of a nasty traffic accident involving multiple amputations.
In a time when many children in literature seem to be somewhere along the autism spectrum, I am incredibly pleased that Candice is not. While I understand that many children are autistic (or at least due to advancements in science and medicine, we are able to properly diagnose more), certain trends do show up in literature, and the current disability du jour seems to be autism in some form or another. This exchange between Candice and Douglas Benson from Another Dimension's mother makes sure we know that Candice really is just one unique individual:
"You are autistic, aren't you?" 
"No," I said. 
It was ... Penelope's turn to look puzzled. 
"Then what are you?" she asked. 
"I'm me," I said. 
I love the overall honesty of the narrative, and Candice's intriguing outlook on life compared to her family and peers. But then again, Douglas Benson from Another Dimension is pretty quirky himself. In any case, Candice's dealings with her teachers at school are both silly and evidence of a sincere misunderstanding of the rules of social interaction. Her desire to make sure that her fish, named Earth-Pig (a variation on the Afrikaans word, Aardvark), doesn't try to view her as God. At school, Candice has a few bullies to deal with, but her belief that they are truly good beneath the surface leads to friendship building of a very interesting sort.

I'm missing a lot of the plot here, but part of the joy in reading this book is being blindsided by the childlike but very true observations of life and individuals in Candice's life. I love Candice's wacky plans to reconcile her broken family and make things right for Earth-Pig fish and Douglas Benson from Another Dimension, and even for her fabulous teacher, Miss Bamford.

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee is honest, powerful, hilarious, and beautiful. A truly unique contribution to children's fiction from the brilliant mind of Australian author Barry Jonsberg.

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out September 2014)

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