CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 5 . . . .October 27, 2006
Fast Track. (Redline Racing Series).
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005.
117 pp., pbk., $8.95.
Automobile racing-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Todd Kyle.
Rick reached up with his other hand, grabbed my collar, and pulled me to within inches of his face. "I mean you, Eddie. I blame you.... No one else, just...you."
Rick fell back on the pillow, turning an even paler shade of gray than before. "It was your dumb idea."
He was right. During all the confusion of the past few hours, I hadn't really admitted it fully to myself yet. But the truth was that if I hadn't sparked Rick's fertile imagination in the first place, we would be sleeping peacefully in the cab of our truck under the Oregon stars instead of winding up here in the Yamhill County Emergency Room. I should have known. Rick Grant--mechanical engineer, software developer, race car designer, and my best friend since junior high--had one of those minds that finds a solution and puts it into action before most people have even begun to figure out what the question was.
Vancouver native Eddie and his friends, Rick and Herb, who are probably in their early twenties, transport their Trans-Am race car from Seattle to California to compete against the big guys for their first time. On the way, they face the Oregon state police when they are forced to drive the car to a hospital when their truck runs out of gas and Rick swallows race fuel in a botched gas-siphoning job. Let go by the police, they continue to Laguna Seca Raceway, where, despite the odds, Eddie drives the car to a third-place finish in the race. The young men later witness another driver deliberately cause an accident that injures a fellow rookie, ending his season early. All minds conspire to concoct a plan for Eddie to drive the rookie's Formula Atlantic car - the team's real dream - in a future race.
The text of this slim young-adult novel is quite clearly written by someone who knows race cars--Hampshire is a school principal and former driver. The description of the racing world is technical and fast-paced, aided by a helpful glossary. But the writing leaves much to be desired.
Plot and suspense are poorly handled. The three episodes of the book have no connecting climactic arc, the last third of the book being highly anticlimactic after the comparative rush of the race scene. Suspense is handled so poorly that the reader knows what's going on well before the punch line--and probably doesn't care. Even the humour - grovelling with the police, Herb's eating habits, Eddie's clumsy attraction to Rick's sister - comes across not as hip youth antics, not as relief from the drama, but as smarmy, in a middle-of-the-road adult way that would suit a 1950s primer more than a novel for reluctant pre-teen readers. And as for irony, there is nothing but clumsy attempt. The opening scene at the hospital is set up like a sheepish bringing-up of wayward youth by rural police--Eddie, the narrator, tells us he is scared they will be arrested by the police and never make it to the race. But only the reader is unaware that, while they did race a non-street-legal car on public roads, it was in an emergency life-saving. How can this be ironic if the narrator, of all people, is completely aware of the truth?
All this would be fine and good if the book were funny, even in a campy sort of way. But this is serious, right down to the accident-causing driver's venomous denial of wrongdoing when Eddie and company confront him at a press conference. That the driver is described as a rich Brazilian who says he is in that country's top three only serves to drive home his clichéd, evil-villain portrayal. And yes, characterization is poor. It would be fine if left, once again, to campy humour, albeit stilted campy humour such as Herb's food obsessions. But Hampshire--probably thinking like an educator--has Eddie fondly recall an unbelievably pat talk with his parents about his career choice as a young teen. They tell him about the financial and safety risks of forming his own racing team - then completely leave him alone. Who are these parents, I can hear the average 12-year-old asking, and where can I get some?
Libraries will probably be tempted to buy this book just because a novel about race cars is perfect for a reluctant male reader. But even the illustrations--anonymous racing photos of barely newspaper quality--wouldn't keep his interest. He'd be better off reading Road & Track because this book would probably turn him off fiction forever.
Todd Kyle is a former President of the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians who is currently a library branch manager in Mississauga, ON.
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