Tulip Touch Critical Essay

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The Tulip Touch

Anne Fine, Author Little Brown and Company $15.45 (160p) ISBN 978-0-316-28325-0
Natalie and her parents know that Tulip, who lives on the impoverished farm next door, is a compulsive liar. Still, they are spellbound by the odd, imaginative details of her stories (""the Tulip touch,"" as Natalie's sympathetic father calls it). Even though Tulip tries to hide the abuse she suffers from her own father, her anger and humiliation reverberate during the years she is best friends with Natalie, who narrates this exceptionally insightful tale set in Fine's (Alias Madame Doubtfire; Flour Babies) native Britain. As Tulip's games grow nastier and more intense (her ideas of fun include badgering strangers and setting fires), Natalie comes to her ""full senses"" and makes a break, suddenly realizing that although it may be too late to change Tulip's life, there is till time to save her own. Fine offers a fascinating study of a much-victimized child striking out at the world. Her novel is unusual in that it offers both an insider's and an outsider's point of view as Natalie shifts from Tulip's loyal sidekick to removed observer. Provocative moral questions arise from this chilling portrait. Is Tulip's fate sealed? Could Natalie's parents have helped her? Natalie, riddled with pity and guilt, remains unsure--a realistic conclusion to a story that does justice to the complexities of its theme. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Compact Disc - 978-0-7540-6512-8
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-613-18285-0
Paperback - 228 pages - 978-0-7540-6091-8
Hardcover - 978-0-7540-7026-9
Hardcover - 146 pages - 978-0-582-84889-4
Paperback - 148 pages - 978-0-14-132047-2
Paperback - 176 pages - 978-0-14-037808-5
Hardcover - 978-0-7451-7397-9

nne Fine is one of the most popular British children's writers in the United States, even though most readers don't know her by name. They love the movie ''Mrs. Doubtfire,'' starring Robin Williams, which is based on her novel ''Alias Madame Doubtfire,'' the story of a divorced dad who dresses up in drag as a housekeeper so that he can get access to his children. The book is better than the movie: farce, yes, and hilarious one-liners, but also hurt and anger and unexpected kindness. In all her fiction Fine writes funny, furious quarrel scenes: she's fair to friends and enemies, to children and to the adults who have power over them. Fine lived here and in Canada for many years before returning to her native Britain, where she has won many prestigious awards, including two Carnegie medals. ''The Tulip Touch'' is her best. It's an elemental friendship story, told by a ''good'' girl, Natalie, who follows a dangerous outsider, Tulip, into flaming trouble. Unlike Tulip's abusive family, Natalie's is stable; her kind father runs a plush hotel for a bored, leisured clientele. Natalie saves herself just in time (''It was like coming out of the hospital''), but there is no one to catch Tulip. This time Fine isn't funny at all; she is part of the current dark trend in children's fiction, but the headlong action here moves with such thrilling intensity that readers will rush to the end and then go back and back to think about the disturbing truth. ''Who cares?'' is a question Fine makes us ask, even as she reveals how close we are to the edge.

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