Editorial Review: Around the Cul-de-sac by Christina De Paris
In Around the Cul-de-sac by Christina De Paris readers get to ride along and experience slices of a young Florida girl’s life in the 1990s. Sydney, an observant and adventurous character navigates her way through the trials and joys of family dynamics, the public school system, best friends and after-school activities, and intriguing neighbors.
There are sixteen short stories, all featuring the same main characters, lake-loving Sydney (“the Lagunilla girl”) and her lower-middle income family, with each story or chapter themed around an event or period in Sydney’s life. These include the week she got into a complicated shoe swap with a school friend (Trading Footwear), and an unhappy sleepover birthday party/divorce announcement weekend (Go-Kart Schematics). In 1996 Grammy Nominees CD an entire light-hearted page and a half is dedicated to a performance by Sydney, older brother Matteo and younger brother Wade of Seal’s Kiss From A Rose.
The titular story is an intricately dramatic tale about Sydney playing Frogger on her bicycle one summer and getting to grips with a front loader rudely abandoned at the mysterious construction site across the street.
Loud Computer Noises features the “verdant hillside screen” of the fictional Microsoft Windows 97 and the new world of dial-up Internet. In The Family Next Door, Sydney becomes preoccupied with the neighbor’s abandoned but pristine swimming pool.
“It wasn’t long before the girl started to become embittered that the neighbor’s more-than-adequate pool was going unused. Constantly outside, she tried to keep the pool in view. She did laps around her house depending on what called to her—solitude by the lake, forts in the woods, rowing her red boat, or out by the street to see what kind of action would unfold.”
The innocent, amusing first-person perspective gives an up-close-and-personal insight into the inner workings of Sydney, and the level of detail in the storytelling is mesmerizing. The strong family bond, particularly between Sydney and her two brothers, underpins most of the action. The stories, categorized as realistic fiction by the publisher/author, have a somewhat cathartic, memoir-like quality to them, as Sydney works through some painful and confusing life events while drawing comfort from her own strengths and talents.
Despite coming across a little disjointed and the subject matter veering into the mundane at times, the concept behind this book is solid and original, and the characters, especially our young protagonist in all her anxious, obsessive, competitive glory, are vividly brought to life.
This assortment of snippets from Sydney’s life will resonate strongly with those who would enjoy reminiscing about the 90s pop culture that abounds in this coming-of-age collection.