CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 16 . . . . April 4, 2008
A good thesaurus describes ‘tweaking" as fine-tuning or altering, presumably with the intention of improving something. In Gordie Jessup's world, however, tweaking is the state his brother Chase is in every time he's desperate for another hit of crystal meth. Drawn into the hopeless world of the insidious drug, Chase starts both himself and his family on a dark journey into mistrust, deception, disbelief, shattered hopes, and self-preservation. With a craving that gnaws at him relentlessly, Chase must find progressively more sinister ways to obtain the money to feed his addiction. Initially he relies on and eventually takes advantage of his mother's emotional distress for financial support, but soon he is driven to stealing, harassing his grandmother, and forging a credit card. Coming off an extended high, Chase attacks a stranger with a bottle, leaving the man critically injured and in a coma. Chase is arrested and returned to the custody of his parents who have been forced to post the $50,000 bail they can barely afford. But soon the aptly-named Chase is back on the streets, hiding from his dealers and the police, leaving his financially and emotionally ruined family to wonder how it all went so wrong.
While most teens are now educated about the danger of crystal meth, Katherine Holubitsky (Alone at Ninety Foot) has crafted a story that takes the reader beyond the grim facts to the personal tragedy of the user and of the families and communities affected as well. In Tweaked, she has struck a solid relationship between character development and plot, working one off the other to drive the narrative forward. By her telling the story from Gordie's point of view, one feels the ground around him destabilizing as he is confronted by Chase's behaviour and its impact on his parents and himself. He clings to his hardware store job and his friend Jade for the normality they offer. Instead of using only direct description to reveal characters, Holubitsky relies on the reader's response to the characters' actions to elicit empathy; the reader desires to know the outcome. The emotional conflict the family experiences causes each to act in ways unfamiliar to them, such as concealing things from one other, withdrawing, and trying to take the situation into their own hands. At one point, Gordie reluctantly provides Chase with $2000 (selling his guitar and emptying his bank account to do so) to help Chase pay off his dealers on the condition that Gordie accompany Chase to the drug house. Tension grows as Gordie waits in the car for Chase to return, and when he doesn't, Gordie heads into the house to find him. The suspense, coupled with a judicious use of foreshadowing, teases the reader just enough to sense the impending conflict to come. The middle class suburban background illustrates the fact that this story can happen in the most usual of settings.
While keeping Gordie's voice plausible for a 16-year-old, Holubitsky has also given him a sense of irony ("They had a high time on the money that was meant to fly [Chase] to France."). His tone clearly reveals his impatience, frustration and anger over the destruction of his world. He feels an underlying helplessness as a result of his inability to help Chase, yet is hopeful when Chase's friend Ryan enters rehab.
Like Melvin Burgess' Junk, Tweaked is a solid work that paints a sound, accurate picture of the spiral into addiction, and its resulting emotional and physical carnage. Yet it does so without sliding into didacticism. The novel puts a realistic human face to the destructive nature of crystal meth, leaving the reader to wonder how he or she would act under the circumstances in which Gordie finds himself. In the end, it is a story of hope tempered with a dose of hard reality. Tweaked should find itself not only in school and public libraries, but also in the classroom as an effective and compelling read-aloud on an important contemporary issue.
Thom Knutson is the Youth Services Coordinator at the Saskatoon Public Library in Saskatoon, SK.
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