The fiction novel Out Of Focus by Margaret Buffie is an old, true sounding story about a teenager named Bernie Dodd with extra burdens, including looking after her younger siblings because their single mother is an irresponsible alcoholic. When Bernie was thirteen, she told her mother, “When you stop being drunk, I’ll call you Mom” (Buffie, 29). She is sixteen now, and still calls her mom Celia. Things started to look up for Bernie and her younger siblings Ally and Jojo; Celia is marrying Mario, who loves kids and is genuinely a nice guy.
They’ll have a house instead of a roach-infected apartment; Ally won’t have to worry about the bully down the hall, there will be groceries in the fridge, and maybe Celia will sober up. The morning of the wedding Bernie finds that Celia has called the whole thing off. There are three priorities in Bernie’s life: looking out for her younger brother and sister, her love of photography and Celia’s alcoholism, no matter how many times she promises that she will be sober. Calling off the whole wedding is just one thing to add to a long list of disappointments. Bernie is disgusted that her mother can’t kick her alcoholism.
Bernie comes up with a plan to get her mother out of the city, giving them all a chance to start a new life. When she finds out that her mother has inherited Black Spruce Lodge, a former guest lodge on a lake in Ontario, from an aunt Bernie’s never heard of, she demanded her mother take them there to start a new life, with a threat to call Social services and have her children taken away from her if she refuses to move there. The place is in ruins, but so are their lives; Bernie insists they work hard to fix the place up so they can live there, making a living by running a store for the summer visitors.
This plan begins to work out, with help of friendly neighbours who adored Charlotte, their aunt. Bernie’s world begins to gradually change. Her mother begins to get her life under control, staying away from alcohol, paying more attention to Ally and Jojo, and attempting to finally be a real mother to Bernie. The novel Out of Focus is written in first person; the main protagonist Bernie Dodd. For instance, “I was about to wriggle deeper into my sleeping bag when something light and fast ran across my legs” (Buffie, 66). Having the narration in first person makes the novel more personal and powerful from the character’s view of the story.
The reader will feel how the character is feeling in a certain situation. Next, a metaphor used continuously throughout the novel is black and white snaps. Bernie takes black and white pictures from the camera her dad gave her and some other camera’s she found in Black Spruce Lodge. Her father said “if you want to catch the essence of people – see what was really going inside them … the shutter [goes] deep into their souls … colour shots are like sunglasses, reflecting back social masks – not people’s real essences” (Buffie, 20) This metaphor helps set the mood for the character; Bernie and also for the novel.
Finally, an example of a flashback used in the novel is Bernie’s dad. This use of a flashback shows how much Bernie has taken on acting like a mother and a father to her younger siblings while her mother was out drinking. The author uses this to develop the character Bernie showing that she is taking on more responsibilities some which are even out of reach. The first connection between the novel Out of Focus is from the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Brian the main character learns to fend for himself since he is stranded alone in the Canadian wilderness.
Perhaps he might compare to Bernie having to take care of herself and her siblings. Both novels are in first person, the characters are both independent and teenagers around the same age. The second connection is from the novel The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. In this novel Ponboy and his friends and his brothers have to deal with life on their own with no parents. Bernie’s life is also similar to the lives of the characters in the novel The Outsiders. Bernie’s mom is almost always drunk not taking care of her children. Bernie’s has taken on the responsibility of being the guardian for her siblings.
I made this connection because in both of the novels teenagers are taking care of themselves and of other’s because their parents have deceased or they have a parent who is an alcoholic. Bernie has such strong confidence in herself which I look up to. Even though Bernie is a character in Margaret Buffie’s book I look up to her. She is like a role model to me even though she isn’t real. The message I got from the book was that I should stand up for myself and don’t let people push me around like Bernie’s mother did to her.
The author Margaret Buffie kept the reader hooked to the novel. I didn’t want to put the book down, the novel was very suspenseful was the plot was moving quickly. A weakness in the novel is the first person point of view can allow a reader to feel very close to a specific character’s point of view, it also limits the reader to that one other perspective. The reader can only know what this character knows. I would recommend this book for teenagers who might be going through a problem like this or others who would be interested in books like this.