8 Notes to a Nobody: In depth teen issues.

Author: Cynthia T. Toney

Publisher: Write Integrity Press

Age Range: 12 – 16

This is such an interesting book for young teens.  On one level it is about a girl finding her way amidst friendships, study, concerts and a split family.  On another level the story addresses some surprisingly in-depth topics such as eating disorders and teen suicide. Cynthia T. Toney has produced a very well-constructed story that leads young teen readers carefully through an array of complex and emotional situations.

Wendy lives with her mother.  Her father has remarried and has a new family.  Wendy and her mother live within humble means and appear to be happy enough. But Wendy’s lifelong best friend, Jennifer, has everything money could possibly buy.  In between make overs, new wardrobes and her fabulous ballet career, Jennifer is popular, kind and bright.  As the story picks up pace, we see that Wendy is becoming increasingly aware of Jennifer’s beautiful looks, privileged lifestyle and abundant opportunities.  By mid-way through the book, Wendy has become resentful and bitter.  Her father’s new family is a drag, she can’t seem to make friends like Jennifer can, and she believes her own face is … strange.


Cynthia T. Toney has done a wonderful job of creating characters and situations that draw readers in and make them feel the growing resentment inside of Wendy.  I found myself hating whoever Wendy hated, and longing for just a little of Jennifer’s great looks and wealthy lifestyle.  As the story continues, Wendy finds her creative self by designing and constructing sets for the school play.  School exams are looming and middle school is coming to an end.  And just to make life even more complex, rotten John Wilson continues to tease and goad her about… anything really. And she begins to learn some dark secrets about her dad that she needs to incorporate and give meaning to. All of the elements of a typical teen novel are present in the story, but then Cynthia T. Toney takes us one step further.

Cynthia T. Toney


One of the popular girls at school collapses and is taken to hospital.  It is revealed that she has a serious eating disorder and is starving herself almost to death.  Then Jennifer herself, it is hinted, also appears to be eating less in order to succeed at her ballet.  It is heartening to find a novel that presents these issues in a straightforward, but sensitive way.  Wendy tries to understand why these girls seem so incredibly hard on themselves.  The whole ‘beautiful and popular’ ideal starts to lose its appeal for her.


Weaved throughout the story is a little mystery.  Someone is leaving encouraging little post-it notes for her, and Wendy can’t figure out who it might be.  All thoughts of the mystery are washed away in tears however, when best friend Jennifer reveals that she will be going away for summer to New York for her ballet.  Wendy is devastated.  A whole summer without her best friend in the world.  Jennifer gently nudges Wendy to try and make a bigger effort to get to know more people. And then, Jennifer is gone.


Is it only the young at heart who can recall such acutely devastating moments as these?  Cynthia T. Toney gently leads us through the long days of restlessness and sadness as Wendy picks herself up after such a busy, exhausting and sad ending to the school year. She bravely strikes out to find new friends – her neighbour, the elderly Mr V helps her to become involved in animal welfare work, and the unpopular Alice at school becomes Wendy’s new friend.  Wendy even makes an effort to be pleasant to her dad’s new family.  Before too long, Wendy and Alice are training for the track team next year, and life starts to improve all around.

And then, something very unexpected happens.  The boy who has teased Wendy all year, John Wilson, commits suicide.  Wendy is utterly shocked. She finds the whole situation to be very confusing and very confronting.  Over time, Wendy begins to see John’s behaviour in a new light, as she learns of the pressures he was under and discovers that he suffered from depression.  The young people in this book are subjected to some major incidents, and finding meaning is a major challenge. But with the love of her mother, and the help of her friends, Wendy manages to keep moving forward and grows in maturity as the book continues.

Wendy has a strong Catholic faith, and attends Mass every Sunday.  Her faith is not a major focus of the story, but it is clear that she has a strong understanding of the difference between right and wrong.  By book’s end, she lets her golden crucifix hang loosely out of her collar as a public statement of her faith, and continues to shoot an occasional prayer up to God.


The book ends with the popular Jennifer drifting off to be with other friends, and Wendy is looking forward to her track work. She has won a major track event, and her mum is getting closer to Alice’s father (who is a widower).  It turns out it was Alice who was leaving the little post it notes everywhere, just because she thought Wendy needed some encouragement. Neighbour, Mrs V, has become a surrogate grandmother and the future looks bright, despite all the challenges along the way.

With so much happening in this book, it is a testament to Cynthia T. Toney’s writing ability that she manages to maintain control of it all and weave the stories in and out in a satisfying way.  I recommend this book with a trigger warning for some people because it explores issues of teen suicide and eating disorders.  The Catholic element is not a major aspect of the book but is significant in helping Wendy to understand what is the ‘right’ thing to do in some very complex situations. Young people will relate to the contemporary themes.  There are multicultural aspects to Wendy’s heritage that are interesting to discover too.   I look forward to reading more about Wendy, because this is only the first in a series of books named ‘the Birdface series’.


You can purchase the first book in the Birdface series, 8 Notes to a Nobody HERE.

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