CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 2004
The Beckoners is a raw, gripping examination of bullying in a small-town, Canadian high school. Zoe, her little sister Cassy, and her mother, Alice move from Prince George ("full of 4X4ing, hockey addicted, sweat-drenched guys whose sole goal in life was to get on at the mill and save up for a big screen TV") to Abbotsford ("that smelled like cow shit, thanks to the surrounding farms"). Dysfunctional Alice, who can barely cope with her alcoholism and the men in and out of her life, essentially leaves Cassy to Zoe to bring up. Zoe makes a bad decision and joins the Beckoners, a clique of stunningly vicious girls led by Beck, whose own father physically abuses her. Although she is also befriended by the gay couple of Simon and Teo, and actually falls in love with Leaf, the editor of the school's paper, Zoe slowly sinks into the sticky morass of belonging to the Beckoners. Zoe limps from the searingly painful branding used as an initiation to the heart stopping anxiety of never knowing for sure when she might be physically hurt or scathingly humiliated in public. The clique's main victim, April, is addressed as "Dog" and treated by them like an animal. At Beck's 16th birthday party, Zoe witnesses a rape, and she realizes she can't be part of the Beckoners any more. When the Beckoners hang April in effigy in her own backyard, Zoe understands that she and April will never be left alone in peace. In a scene right from the Reena Virk murder, April is attacked and beaten when she least expects it. When the clique members hang April's dog from a tree in her yard, Zoe and her friends, Leaf, Teo and Simon, contrive a trick that has Beck and her followers confess their sins to the police.
There are Zoe's in every high school in Canada, girls who hope to be film directors, who like to write, who observe their world through a cynical, sarcastic lens ground from parental neglect, girls who know how critical it is to fit in, girls who are tough on the outside and terrified on the inside. As the school year progresses, Zoe grows to find true love, solid friendship and real compassion. She learns to act, when she could remain silent.
Zoe's character is the compelling centre of this dramatic story, the
secondary characters are all strongly drawn. The long-suffering Alice,
author of her own misfortunes, lives dramatically from relationship
to relationship, having never learned to be an adult. Some of the
most telling scenes are those between Alice and Harris, Cassy's father,
where they lash out at each other and reach out for each other at
the same time. Simon, a gay teen who has come out and has a boyfriend,
Teo, is the supportive friend Zoe needs. With his articulate, witty
voice, he even manages to diffuse volatile, difficult school scenes
in which April is the victim. Beck, herself a victim, hurts others
to deal with her own pain. Although she does truly like Zoe, she can
only cope with her anger and anxiety by controlling others, and so
she will never be a true friend to anyone.
Mac's style is tight and concise: no words are wasted. There are beautiful, lyrical sections when Zoe dreams of the Beckoners drowning, reflects on her future and watches Beck outside the police station. The dialogue is contemporary and reflects the bravado of teenagers' talk. This includes using swear words to shock, frighten and put down each other. The intended audience will see themselves in this novel and embrace it.
The Beckoners will be one of those sleeper novels passed from hand to hand by teenagers who empathize with Zoe's fear, Simon's courage and April's suffering. It will probably disappear from your library collections, the ultimate approval rating. Buy your five copies now and keep one behind the counter. Your April's will need it.
Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate, Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.