CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005
Peter McPhee wades into the murky waters of stalking in this short, accessible novel directed at older teenage girls who are trying to cope with the teen dating scene. Sixteen-year-old Emily and her best friend, Morgan, both work for the gay Ethan as waitresses at the Cyber Taste Café on Calgary's Ninth Avenue as an after school job. Carefree, outgoing Morgan gently teases Emily over a new boy, Daniel, but both of them are repulsed and yet intrigued by geeky Michael who pursues Emily in a scary, persistent manner. Michael sends Emily gifts, gushing email and cards which she uneasily keeps in a shoebox. In typical high-school-girl fashion, neither girl thinks of telling a parent about Michael's behaviour, but, because Michael fixes the computers at the café, they share their misgivings with Ethan, who does keep an eye out for their safety. In revenge for Emily's having dated Daniel, Michael viciously insults Emily on the café's website, and the parents and police are finally contacted. Emily's trusting parents eventually regret that they never lock their doors when a remote-controlled camera is found in Emily's bedroom. In a frightening climax, Michael escapes the authorities, firebombs the café and is badly burned along with Daniel. Emily takes a student exchange to Europe, and Michael becomes a permanent resident in a locked psychiatric ward. The novel ends with a creepy couple of pages in Michael's voice telling how he is already reading Emily's email from Europe to her parents.
This short, compelling novel will be very attractive to girls who are uneasy about the dating scene. Emily's bad grade 9 experience with Justin, who hit her when she wouldn't have sex with him, and Emily's hesitant approach to Daniel's advances will feed right into girls' insecurity.
Emily, Morgan and Daniel are well-drawn, typical older teens trying to take control of their own lives. Emily's laid back music teacher parents are adored by all the young people, including Emily, and they do come through in the emergency climax at the end. The gay Ethan and his partner Joel are not stereotypical, only compassionate older men who help the younger people. Michael's delusional behaviour is named as erotomania, and the difficulties that police and foster parents have with mentally ill people are made very clear. The police are shown to be gentle, but thorough and competent.
Although McPhee makes an effort to set this novel in Calgary, its action could be happening in any large Canadian city, and so it will appeal across the country and even in the U.S.
McPhee nicely balances the up-to-date banter between teens with the hair-raising horror of an innocent girl's unawareness of her stalker. The mood is full of dramatic irony, with the reader gradually realizing that the trusting nature of Emily and her parents is going to result in tragedy.
It's unfortunate that the issue of Emily's finding the carefully arranged shoebox full of pornographic pictures and innocent wedding shoes on a satin pillow is not resolved. The reader doesn't know if Emily ever does show this creepy talisman to her parents or to the police. The other niggling question is why Emily's mother never addressed the issue of Justin's abuse. Media-savvy teens will think it odd that cell phones and text messaging are not an integral part of Emily's world and Michael's assault. This book will raise the issue of stalking, making it an acceptable topic of conversation. Readers will recognize their own danger and their own strengths.
Joan Marshall of Winnipeg, MB, is a recently retired high school teacher-librarian.
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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.