CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
Down. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
103 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-766-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55143-768-2 (hc.).
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Thomas Knutson.
It was my own stupid fault that I got sent away. When I told one of the counselors that, he asked if I was sorry for what I did. I said I was, but I didn't mean it the way he thought I did. He thought I was saying I was sorry for beating up that guy. But I wasn't. I was just sorry I did it when there were people around who could tell the cops everything. And I was sorry I did it when it was still light out. What I should have done was waited and jumped the guy from behind when it was dark. I should have made sure that neither he nor anyone else got a good look at me. But I didn't. I was too pissed off to wait.
I'm still not sorry I did it. The guy deserved it. After what he said, he totally deserved it. Asia asked me why I'd beaten the guy so bad – but I didn't tell her. I couldn't. Which meant that I couldn't tell anyone else, either. Not that anyone else seemed all that interested. My mother, the cops, my lawyer, even the judge, all acted like they expected it from me. It was like they figured a guy like me, with all the stuff I'd done, would beat on a guy because maybe he looked at me the wrong way or said some stupid thing that set me off. And I guess that last part is true. So what? They can think what they want. The guy had it coming to him – that and more.
Anyway, after I see Asia on the street, I start walking home. But I only go a couple of blocks before I realize that home is the last place I want to be. My mother doesn't want me there. She's tense around me, like she's afraid of what I might do. My sister won't talk to me except to tell me stuff my mother tells her to tell me, like, Mom says you should take the garbage out or Mom wants you to mow the grass. I look at them in the kitchen together making supper or sitting together on the couch watching TV and talking about whatever program it is, and I imagine how well they must have got along while I was away. So I don't go home.
The problem is, I don't know where to go.
Remy, having spent several months behind bars for the very brutal assault of a man, has just returned home. But within three days, he is swept back into the violence that characterizes his life, especially when he's in the company of his male peers. While he was away, another group, having lost their own basketball court to a condo development, moved into the area to take over "his" basketball court. Complicating things for Remy is the fact that his former girlfriend, Asia, is now dating Marcus, the leader of the newcomers. Asia felt abandoned by Remy while he was away, yet now she asks Remy to warn Marcus about the danger of carrying a knife, especially if he is caught by the police. Wary of Marcus, Remy is subsequently torn between his loyalty to his friends and his desire to win back Asia's love. Meanwhile, the presence of Dunlop, a bitter cop traumatized by an attack that left his partner dead, is back on patrol and setting his sights on both Remy and Marcus.
Norah McClintock's Down, another fine title in the "Orca Soundings" series, draws in reluctant readers with its dramatic action and brief scenes. The first person voice puts the reader directly in the centre of the story, providing the opportunity to closely experience Remy's bleak future at home and in the community. Violence and conflict pervade the story, from a gang-style basketball court fight to the machete attack that Asia and her family barely survived in their home country. The addition of Dunlop as a figure of authority provides the element of a police drama that will appeal to television watchers. Yet despite the conflict and evident poverty, readers will also appreciate Remy's desire to find some paid work and his need to be loved.
Down is sure to find an audience, either with those male teens who can be hooked by the narrative through booktalks or read-aloud, or with anyone looking for a quick, realistic read. As with her other titles in this series, McClintock does not fail to deliver a tightly-packed story despite its economy of language. Recommended for all public and high school libraries.
Thom Knutson is Saskatoon Public Library's Youth Services Coordinator.
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