________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 4. . . .September 30, 2016


Speed of Life.

J. M. Kelly.
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2016.
341 pp., hardcover & ebook, $25.50 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-5447-4782-1 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-5448-6821-2 (ebook).

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Thatís what I tell myself, anyway. But honestly, every time I think about going to work at Jimmyís again, my hands start to shake and my heart revs up like the Mustangís motor. McPherson, Kansas, population 13,322, is sounding better all the time. Also, I canít stop thinking about how cool it would be to actually learn all the stuff I want to know, not just what Jimmy can teach me in his small shop. People who restore cars make a lot of money. A lot . . . even during recessions. Rich people donít worry about the shit everyone else does. If I took this course, someday me, Amber and Nat could live anywhere we wanted. We wouldnít have to buy a fixer-upper, either. We could get one of those big new houses in West Linn or a cool condo with underground parking in Northwest Portland. We could live in style. Iíd be making real money. I think if it werenít for leaving our family Ė and the Glass Slipper Ė for four years, Amber would be cool about moving because sheíd understand it would help us in the long run.


On the way to algebra I decide thereís no point in arguing with Amber over McPherson now. Iíll get the stuff together and then maybe Iíll apply. And then maybe if I get in Iíll tell her. And maybe sheíll be excited and want to go. I doubt theyíll take me anyway.

Iím not too bad at schoolwork, but Amber usually fills out any forms either of us need, so Iíd be on my own there. But still, I can probably handle the application. And last year in English, we practiced writing college essays, which was the biggest joke ever. Only something like 10 percent of the kids from this school even go to college, and most of them enroll in the two-year ones, not universities. None of us need to know how to write an essay. Except, maybe now I do.


Crystal and her twin sister Amber are 17-year-olds in their senior year of high school. They hope to graduate and make something of themselves and leave the poor part of town where they grew up. Amber is better in math while Crystal helps her with writing assignments. The money from their part-time jobs goes into a joint bank account. And when baby Natalie arrives during their junior year of high school, they make a pledge to raise her together. Their plan to share everything and eventually make their own way in the world begins to unravel, however, when a guidance counsellor notices Crystalís grades and suggests that she turn her love of cars into a profession. There is a college course in automotive restoration which would be perfect for Crystal, but it would mean interrupting the twinís grand plan for at least four years and moving to Kansas.

     Crystal is a main character who grabs the readerís attention from the beginning of the novel. She is not a stereotypical female. She loves her job at the gas station and particularly likes restoring old cars. She doesnít hate guys, but she isnít particularly interested in a relationship. She is strong, confident and capable. When faced with the decision about following her dreams and achieving her goals versus accepting the status quo and working at the garage, she doesnít hesitate for long. She is certain that the long term gain outweighs the short-term pain despite knowing that it will be a difficult transition.

     Twin sister Amber is much less extroverted and is not a risk-taker. She appreciates family and friends and being in a more comfortable atmosphere. She works at her auntís tavern and has been promised a full-time position after high school, with the goal of perhaps one day taking over the business. Amber isnít an academic and wants the safety and security of a job, a better place to live, and happier surroundings for baby Natalie.

     The two girls have been forced to depend on one another since their family background offers little support and guidance. Mom has a low-paying job and spends most of her earnings buying lottery tickets. Stepdad is usually to be found on the couch, a case of beer close at hand. It is obvious that the twins need to have a better environment, particularly with a baby to raise.

     J. M. Kelly provides two very special characters in Crystal and Amber and a young adult novel full of twists, turns and surprises which will keep readers enthusiastically turning pages right to the end of the book. The story looks at teen pregnancy and the realities of caring for a child while still in school. Despite the hardships they face and the arguments they have, the young women never lose sight of the importance of caring for Natalie and giving her a better life than they have had.

     Kelly also deals with some interesting philosophical questions. Readers consider the dilemma of being true to oneself at the risk of alienating those around you. How can you choose between your aspirations and what you feel you owe yourself and what you feel you owe others? Are you bound to honour the promises youíve made even when circumstances change and they no longer seem appropriate? Speed of Life opens the door to great discussions!

     Crystal and Amber are both protagonists seeking their freedom and independence as they approach adulthood even if they donít always agree on how to achieve these goals or what the goals might ultimately look like. Both characters grow in maturity and self-understanding throughout the novel.

     J. M. Kelly presents her readers with people whom readers will remember long after they reluctantly finish this superb novel.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

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

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