CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006
Earth to Nathan Blue is NOT science-fiction; although, increasingly, Nathan Blue feels as though he’s living in an alien world. Twelve-year-old Nathan lives with his mother, “the Mothership,” and his younger brother, “the Twerp.” He misses his dad and blames the Mothership for sending his father to far away “Coovervan”—translation: Vancouver—on the “Costa Oeste.” Because Nathan, the Mothership, and the Twerp have also recently moved, Nathan has had to start high school without any of his old friends. On top of all this, the Mothership has been bringing “imposters,” men “trying to take Dad’s place” home for dinner. One in particular, Imposter Jacob, seems to be getting too friendly with the Mothership and the Twerp for Nathan’s liking. As Nathan’s anxiety grows, so does his imagination, to the point that he invents his own, somewhat cryptic language as well as an imaginary friend. His mother, who is unable to tell Nathan’s fact from his fiction, becomes quite worried and decides that Nathan needs to see a psychiatrist. In the meantime, Nathan is befriended by Sheron, a (real) girl in grade nine at the Boredom Academy. He also meets an aging alcoholic, The Doctor, who hangs out by the railway tracks on the far side of the forest behind Nathan’s house. Eventually, The Doctor and Nathan make a plan to “catch out” on a “caboose chain” for “Costa Oeste”—ie: to hop a train for the west coast. Fortunately for Nathan, the plan falls apart at the last second and, upon returning home, he finds his father waiting for him in the living room. Nathan realizes that Imposter Jacob managed to arrange the visit, and that—as the Mothership has said—Dad, while beloved, really isn’t the best at keeping his promises or living up to his responsibilities.
With a bit of intrigue, humour, and mild pathos, author Matt Beam keeps Earth to Nathan Blue moving along at a fairly good pace. The Boredom Academy, Sylvannia (the forest), and The Doctor’s hang-out by “el ferrocarril” (the tracks) are vivid, convincing settings. And Nathan, the story’s unique and truly troubled protagonist, is also believable. Nathan’s father used to recount an old PB (Picture Box) show called “Adventureland.” Nathan has come to think of his absent father as the show’s “Captain” and of himself as the “Apprentice.” When it turns out that Imposter Jacob, The Doctor, and even his friend, Sheron, know the series, the analogy—a good one—continues to develop. Unfortunately, some of the novel’s significant secondary characters—such as the Mothership, the Twerp, and Imposter Jacob—are pretty sketchily drawn, though readers do get at least a sense of what they are about. However, even Sheron and The Doctor, who are more fleshed out, are still not entirely credible. For instance, how is it that Sheron, upon first meeting The Doctor, convinces him to stop drinking? The many serendipitous coincidences in the novel—such as Nathan missing his train the day his dad finally pays a visit—are also not entirely believable. For example, Nathan plays on a soccer team once a week. He always stays on the sidelines, deliberately avoiding interaction with both the “orb” and his “humanoid team-mates.” Yet during the final game of the season, he happens to “somehow,” if not deliberately, score the winning goal. Then, by another amazing coincidence, “geeky and brainy” Nathan is congratulated by Ted, “the coolest guy in school,” who coincidentally (again) happens to live with a stepfather.
Earth to Nathan Blue should appeal to readers who can either identify or sympathize with quirky, fringe characters, and who enjoy a happy—if somewhat predictable—ending.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and editor of children’s stories.
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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.