CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 20 . . . .June 9, 2006
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk Book/Dundurn Press, 2006.
174 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-16.
Review by Darleen Golke.
In my dream, I was at the bottom of Loch Ness. Either I was with the Loch Ness monster or I was the Loch Ness monster. It was unclear to me but it was one of my underwater dreams and I was looking at the surface of the loch and the Scottish sky above. I think I could see the dark underside of boats on the water. There in the depths I was feeling very lonely in an underwater monster sort of way. I was thinking I was the only one of my kind on the planet. I knew that if I surfaced and the truth about me was known, many people would find me fascinating but I would not be able to communicate with them and I would be considered a freak of nature. I did not want that so I stayed at the bottom of the loch and waited for the end of time.
Although I may or may not have actually been the LNM in my dream, I had access to the creature's memory and the memory was very good. He/she/I remembered a time when there were others like us - great, gentle beasts roaming the seas, well before humans appeared on the scene. It was a time of peace and harmony, which sounds dull when I say it out loud but it was good back then, quite good. And I'm pretty sure we were telepathic. In the dream, it really was like being there.
Novels for young adults often focus on the confusion that teens experience about their sense of identity and their place in the world. In his latest offering, prolific Maritime author Lesley Choyce combines the problem novel and science fiction genres to discuss the unusual identity crisis faced by 16-year-old Dylan Gibson living somewhere in urban Nova Scotia in 2014. Dylan's personal agenda includes a "seemingly lifelong quest to figure out what [is] different" about him. "I feel like I'm missing something that everyone else knows about. Or that part of me is missing. It's not like a toe or an ear. There's something I should know about that I don't know," he explains. “Sometimes when I looked at the world, it was like there was someone else inside me looking out at the world with me... someone with whom I shared a powerful but inexplicable bond. This other me never spoke directly to me but I felt his presence - almost always there, observing, wondering."
Dylan's "passion for anything about insects," his "compulsion to read books about death and dying," his vivid, "weird and amazing dreams" about the Loch Ness monster and a mysterious boy, and his other idiosyncrasies contribute to his sense of dislocation from his peers and his "egghead" parents. He compares himself to a water insect. "Most of my life I have felt somewhat like a water strider - able to walk or run on the surface of things, knowing that if something were to disturb that surface, I would sink into whatever was beneath me and drown." At the same time, "part of me... often wanted to pierce that surface and drop beneath. I wanted to see what was down there. I wanted to be immersed although I did not want to drown."
In addition to his sense of feeling different, Dylan faces familiar teen issues like bullying, unsuccessful relationships, boredom with school, and alienation from his parents, although he does worry about his mother's growing depression. When Robyn, the new girl in school, responds positively to his overtures, Dylan basks in their developing relationship. A kindred spirit, Robyn, too, has faced difficulties, and she helps Dylan sort through some of his. His dreams, both waking and sleeping, intensify, and combined with a "curious photoshopped version" of a photograph of a much younger Dylan with long hair, outdated clothes, posed against a castle in Scotland, he increasingly senses something amiss. Finally his distressed parents confess that he is actually a clone of his older brother who died at age nine of a rare and painful cancer. His brilliant, grieving parents utilized their genetic engineering research and skills to create a clone of their beloved, departed Kyle.
"I was confused," Dylan admits, in his usual low-key fashion. "Beyond confused. Confused and angry. Overriding everything was a sudden fear that I would never to able to simply be myself again. If I told the truth to anyone, then I might end up being labeled and ridiculed." Understandably, Dylan feels "exposed and vulnerable," hesitating to confess even to his soul mate, Robyn, who battles her own demons. Learning from a Scots' doctor that he is not the only clone experiencing difficulties, albeit the eldest, Dylan initially refuses, then acquiesces to counsel other clones, thereby helping to sort out his own sense of self worth.
Choyce raises ethical questions about cloning that scientists, philosophers, the religious community, and others have long debated. Relationships, family dynamics, and ethics factor into this coming of age tale; however, the primary focus is on Dylan's inner struggle, his growing uneasiness with the strange and unsettling sensations he experiences, and his attempts to find meaning in his life.
Dylan is an appealing character and well realized; his first person narration permits glimpses into his deepest fears and rawest emotions. Most secondary characters, with the exception of Robyn, merely act as backdrops for Dylan's emerging persona. Using nicely paced prose, smooth dialogue, and an intriguing plot, Choyce moves the story along evenly.
An easy read, Deconstructing Dylan is not the usual coming-of-age tale but poses a unique and entertaining perspective on the teen identity crisis theme.
Darleen Golke, a former high school teacher-librarian, lives in Abbotsford, BC.
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