Allison's Book Bag

QUICK TAKE: The Official 411 Degrassi Generations by Kathryn Ellis

Posted on: May 20, 2013

This past year my husband and I started watching older television shows. One of my picks was Degrassi Junior High, a series produced in Canada and which originally aired in 1987. Imagine my delight when my husband surprised me with this book: The Official 411 Degrassi Generations by Kathryn Ellis.

For those of you who are familiar with this groundbreaking teen show, what can you expect from the companion book? Eight chapters of information, starting with The Degrassi Story. In 1979, Linda Schuyler was a teacher in Toronto encouraging her students to use video to tell their stories. She had also produced a few documentary films of her own and then with her partner, Kit Hood, at their recently formed production company. The school’s librarian knowing of her interest in getting students to make films ordered books on the subject. One of those inspired the film company to create their first fiction film, which became the basis for The Kids of Degrassi Street, which led to Degrassi Junior High, and then Degrassi High, and finally the current offspring Degrassi Next Generation.

Degrassi Junior High

Degrassi Junior High (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In subsequent chapters, you’ll learn how scripts are created, meet the characters and actors, read about the look and sound, discover just how many issues Degrassi has tackled, and finally read a complete episode guide. One of fun parts about the character and actor section were finding out where the child stars are now and what their experiences were like in Hollywood for those who dared to audition there. Did you know that if you visit Toronto, you can actually see the set of the first three Degrassi series? I learned this in the Look and Sound section! Reading the episode guide reminded me of story lines from the two series I saw in my twenties, but also gave me a glimpse into the current series which I have yet to catch on American television although apparently it does air here.

For those of you are unfamiliar with the Degrassi franchise, what’s so special about it? Although the Degrassi series has featured plenty of fun moments, they’re most noted for their willingness to tackle the difficult issues that teens face.

  • Sex is a topic frequently dealt with, such as when in Degrassi Junior High, Paul falsely claims he had sex with Lucy so he’ll look good to his friends. Apparently, in 1987, an episode about Joey was thought to be the first time condoms had been discussed on a fictional television show. And then there’s Spike’s pregnancy. Reaction to this story line ranged from outrage to gratitude.
  • Sexual orientation is also covered. For example, on Degrassi Junior High, Caitlin has dreams about a female teacher that makes her wonder if she is a lesbian. On the same series, Snake’s older brother reveals that he is gay. Not all issues are about sexual matters either. Alcohol effected characters in the form of parental abuse or the saddest being when Wheels’ parents are killed by a drunk driver.
  • Drugs are also discussed. On Degrassi High, some of the characters experiment with marijuana. The most serious consequence is when Shane falls off a bridge when under the influence of acid and ends up with brain damage. Tragically, this story line was inspired by real events.
  • Then there is abuse, both physical and sexual, sometimes from parents as in the case of Rick and other times from dates as in the case of Kathleen. Another form of abuse is bullying, which ended in a truce for Joey and Dwayne but had more dire results for other characters.
  • Last, there are the causes. My favorites involve Caitlin and her protests against nuclear weapons and animal testing. I appreciated how she inspired activism, while also discovering that there are two sides to most issues.
Logo used for seasons 1–5 and 8–9

Logo used for seasons 1–5 and 8–9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Official 411 Degrassi Generations will prove a fascinating companion guide for anyone who has ever enjoyed Degrassi in any of its renditions. Although I only gave examples from Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, viewers familiar only with Degrassi Next Generation will find their actors and episodes from it are also covered. Moreover, there are sections which explain how all the shows overlap. There is something to please every fan, both the old and the new.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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