Day 840: Juggling

Cover for JugglingI am usually a huge fan of Barbara Trapido, but I have to admit to being slightly disappointed by Juggling. I think my problem is in the depiction of its characters.

Christina is the youngest of two sisters. Her parents, Alice and Joe, decided to get married after Alice’s best friend died and Alice decided to adopt her baby, Pam. They all moved to the U.S. from England, and Christina came along seven months later.

Christina is a pushy, lippy, verbally active child, and from early on she doesn’t get along with her father. She finds him too controlling and manipulative, even though he seems to encourage her sauciness.

When Alice met Joe, she was dating Roland. Later, Roland met and married Gentille, Peter’s French mother. Although Peter gets along with Roland, the move from his quiet Paris apartment to England and boarding school is hard on Peter until he comes under the protection of Jago.

Jago is a popular boy in school, but like many popular boys, he tends to be a bully and hangs with a thuggish crowd. Still, he is good friends with Peter until adolescence, when Peter’s lack of coolness becomes too obvious.

Fatefully, Christina and her gentle sister Pam enroll at the same school as Jago and Peter. Christina is fascinated by Jago, but she and her sister are too clean cut in their American fashions for him to be bothered. Still, Jago finds himself drawn to Pam. Pam is oblivious and begins a friendship with Peter based on a mutual love of music. Then a terrible event occurs that changes everything.

This Trapido novel is all over the place, with a boy who floats in the air, another boy who is a mean bully, a Cambridge don who cheats his student by stealing her paper, reshuffling of partners into too many combinations, a woman who purposefully tries to cause problems between a woman and her daughter. And we’re supposed to like all the characters, I think.

I usually like Trapido characters despite their flaws, but in this case I didn’t. I found it hard to like Christina, who takes everything so personally that she splits from her family about something that happened to someone else, even splitting from that person, who was not at fault. I didn’t buy her antipathy to her father. In fact, if anyone is manipulative, it is she. The more likable characters, such as Peter and Pam and Alice, are neglected for the loudmouths and bullies. About the only one of the more forceful characters I liked was Dulcie, who is loud and exuberant, not a bully.

Trapido seems to have made a thing about people pairing up with the wrong partners. In this case, there are just too many of them and too many coincidences. Hence the title of the book, I suppose.

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