________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

cover Evil?

Timothy Carter.
Woodbury, MN, Flux, 2009.
246 pp., pbk., $11.50.
ISBN 978-0-7387-1539-1.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.


"The idea of going to school Monday morning did not, to put it mildly, thrill me. The thought of facing a couple hundred people who all knew my ‘dirty secret' sounded about as much fun as squirting my eyes with hot sauce.

Still, Mom insisted. She even overrode Father Reedy's concerns for my safety –– emotional and physical –– and wouldn't hear another word on the subject. She makes us go to school even when the town is snowed in, so I wasn't exactly surprised. And, if there was humiliation waiting for me, she probably thought I deserved it.

"This," she'd said yesterday, holding the brick that had shattered our window, "is a message from God."

"I think it's just a brick," Father Reedy said.

"No, it's God," my mother said, "acting through those hooligans to tell this family that we are not right with Him."

Yes, she actually said ‘hooligans'.

Stuart Bradley finds it hard to deal with many of the people in the small conservative town in which he lives. Most in the town are fervent Christians, but Stuart doesn't appreciate church or youth group or ‘god talk' very much. As well, he is openly gay which marks him as different from the norm, although his sexuality hasn't caused too many problems. At the beginning of the novel, Stuart's little brother surprises him as he is committing the Sin of Onan in the shower, and this snowballs into a major social upheaval with punishment at home and at school and eventually angry townspeople harassing not only Stuart but any other adolescent they deem to have ‘impure thoughts.'

     Another characteristic which sets Stuart apart is his ability to summon a demon, and this is where he gets truthful answers to many of his questions regarding faith as it relates both to himself and to his neighbours. The demon, Fon Pyre, explains to Stuart's relief that neither homosexuality nor masturbation are truly sins, and he becomes Stuart's unlikely but loyal helper as he is confronted by his staunchly religious neighbours. Everything really starts to deteriorate when Mr. Brightly arrives to teach third period Biblical Studies. It quickly becomes apparent that he is a fallen angel who is hoping to rouse people's emotions to extremes, particularly against the one sin he considers unpardonable –– masturbation. If the town becomes truly obsessed and hate-filled, the barrier between the human world and the supernatural world will weaken, allowing demons to penetrate and eventually destroy the town and everyone in it. Timothy Carter has chosen fantasy as a vehicle for probing society's values, particularly those relating to sexual intolerance. The townspeople are stereotypes of the hard-line evangelical religious groups who see no way of thinking, no spiritual path but their own. Any deviation is simply not tolerated. It is paradoxical that Stuart really begins to learn the truth when he summons a demon who confirms what Stuart already suspects, i.e. that no one religion has all the answers and many things labelled ‘sinful' or ‘immoral' are only that in some people's eyes. To others, the same actions may be normal and acceptable human behaviour.

     Evil? is filled with fast-paced action as the forces of good and evil do battle. The novel has a wide variety of characters who demand the reader's attention. They may be realistic or fantastic characters; they may be pleasant or hateful....but they will not leave readers unmoved. The philosophical and psychological subtext is the core of the book. What, exactly, is evil? Who decides? This weaves into the entire satire of the novel as we find angels and religion seem to be the root of most of the problems while a ‘sinful' teen and his demon buddy are, in fact, the people's only hope against an army of demons poised to invade the town. Everything is turned upside down. Carter thus issues an invitation to readers to consider their own understanding of what constitutes good and evil.

     Carter's novel is satirical, downright funny and also thought-provoking. Whether read as a somewhat titillating and action-filled fantasy or as a deeper treatise on the origins and meaning of evil, it will have appeal and huge entertainment value for many young adult readers and specifically younger teenage boys.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a second career as a travel consultant.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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