CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
259 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Joan Marshall.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
He looks at me and grins. My stomach flip-flops. "I think I could trust you, but only because you've been cooped up too long and don't know the ins and outs of the game very well."
I punch his arm. "Are you calling me bead-un-savy?"
"Maybe just a little bead-naïve."
I have to laugh, and it feels good. "So," I say, looking around the parking lot. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of bead action happening here."
"Ahh. Bead action. Another new term coined. Maybe we could compile a manual."
"Yeah." I consider it. "We could sell it to next year's grads, to give them a bead-up on the game, so to speak."
Joel's eyes shine. "We could list rules, and strategies, and write out urban legends from Gotcha games in years gone by."
"Hmmm. Maybe not, Joel," I say, thinking of something Warren mentioned in our telephone conversation. "I think part of the mystique of the game is that nothing's written down. The rules and stories have been handed down by word of mouth forever."
Joel gives me a curious look.
"Okay, maybe not forever, but for many years, anyway. Who knows, it may go on to become generations."
"Oh, my God," Joel says.
"You're right. Who'd wish this on their kids?"
The parking lot has been quiet, but now a car pulls into the stall right next to ours. The booming of their stereo makes Joel's car windows vibrate.
"Speak of the devil," Joel says, leaning over to link arms with me.
Katie's grade XII year is dominated by a tag game called "Gotcha" in which the grads compete to gather the most number of beads from tagged opponents, with the winner claiming the pot of game registration money. A straight A student on the student council, Katie is both unsure that she can prevent unpleasant incidents and hurt feelings connected to Gotcha, but she also secretly covets the prize money which she needs for college. Then her father leaves the family, and Katie, communicating with him by email, watches while his life unravels due to a gambling addiction. But not before she has lent him the Gotcha money to invest for her. The terror of the possible discovery of the loss of the money, combined with her struggles in her friendship circle and her growing attraction to long-time acquaintance, Joel, are brought to a fever pitch by the plotting and betrayals associated with Gotcha.
A typical high school girl, Katie is immersed in the murky soup of personal relationships: who will be her friends and boyfriend are uppermost in her mind, even as she seethes with resentment over her parents' behaviour. She and her mother are unable to communicate, and Katie blames her mother for her father's desertion. In desperation, Katie betrays friends instead of leaning on them for support, and it is only through the persistence of the school principal that Katie publicly admits her errors and calls for the end of Gotcha, promising to re-pay the participants with the money from her part-time job. Fortunately for Katie, her friends re-commit to her, and she and her mother begin a new connection. Katie doesn't so much change as she does endure.
The secondary characters, especially Katie's parents, principal Fetterly and student council president Warren are all realistic, and, although seen through Katie's eyes, display their true personalities clearly through their dialogue and actions. It's interesting that no serious effort is made to help Katie's father with his addiction which effectively destroys his relationship with his family. Although he is ultimately forgiven and missed, he ceases to be central to Katie or to her mother in the end.
The setting is urban Canada, but, because Slippery Rock High could be any North American suburban high school, there is wide appeal for the intended audience. The Gotcha game is entirely believable. Although Katie has a computer that she uses to email her father, employing acronyms for shorthand, it's odd that she doesn't email friends or own a cell phone to text friends, and so emailing her father only appears to be a plot device rather than an expression of a typical urban teen's everyday life. To talk to her friends, Katie phones them from her home phone or drives around with Joel in his mother's car (which seems rural, old-fashioned, and environmentally odd for today's green teens). On the other hand, Katie and her friends do meet at coffee shops, she does use the computer to check her bank balance, and Warren sets up a Facebook page to track the Gotcha game.
The dialogue, which dominates the style of this book, is witty and up-to-date, pushing along the plot and the relationship tangles. No doubt the email messages will seem trendy, while Katie's self-absorbed introspection does show the extent of her hurt and anguish. There are some grammar errors in the use of pronouns made in direct dialogue and in Katie's telling of the story which jar the ear and should have been either corrected in order to blend with the style of the writing or emphasized through repetition in order to demonstrate the appalling slide into self-centred sloppiness of speech demonstrated by people of a certain class.
The inclusion of a bead threaded onto a piece of twine as a bookmark with the review copy was a very clever marketing device. The intriguing cover of a hand in a jean pocket dangling a collection of beads on twine will draw the intended audience. Girls, especially, will eat up the gossipy, tensioned-filled story and tear up over Katie's trials and tribulations.
A former high school teacher-librarian, Joan Marshall is now a bookseller in Winnipeg, MB.
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