________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 11 . . . . January 23, 2009

cover Breaking Free. (HIP Edge).

Jennifer Mulrine. Illustrated by Charley Hynatiuk.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2008.
98 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-897039-32-8.

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Thom Knutson.

** /4

   
cover Breaking Free: Teacher's Guide.

Lori Jamison.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2008.
20 pp., stapled, $5.95.
ISBN 978-1-897039-32-8.

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Thom Knutson.

** /4

excerpt:

How I survived at home was a mystery, even to me. My mother was a monster! And having Jared around didn't help. Jared was my mom's live-in boyfriend. He was also my ex-therapist… the pig!

I don't know much about my parents' divorce. All I know is that it had a lot to do with the bills. My mom was so serious about the whole stupid thing, and my dad would only make jokes about it. He liked to be positive about everything. You know the old saying: "Two people with the same opinion bang heads and two people with different opinions sing harmony." Well, that didn't exactly work with my parents. They were too different, in too many ways. Maybe it was my dad's drug problem that led to the divorce, but the real problems were deeper. They went back a long way, even before Jared showed up in our lives.

"Hello, Christina, how was your day?" Jared was always trying to be nice to me; I guess it was part of his training. But that didn't mean I had to be polite back.

"Just great, actually. I have a teacher who watches my every move because she has no life. And my principal is a moron just waiting for me to screw up. On the plus side, I got into a fight and broke a guy's nose! Man, I'm on a roll. You know, I think I might skip dinner. I feel like breaking some windows."

I was heading out the door when my mother grabbed my shoulder. "You're not going anywhere, snotface." My mom calls me names all the time and "snotface" is level one. Then we move up to the really evil, twisted names. Most of those I can't put into print. "You're going to eat dinner, and then you're going to bed. I'm sick of having the police and Mr. Sullivan on my back."

I pretended to sigh with relief. "You and me both, Mom. I promise I'll change…if that loser leaves my house." I pointed at Jared.

My mother slapped me across the face. I could feel the heat where her hand hit my cheek. Sure, it hurt, but I didn't back down.

"Why are you such a — ," Mom began.

I cut her off before she could say the rest. "A what? A lovely daughter? Well it's because of my wonderful mother." A little more sarcasm. I don't think we had spoken straight to each other for years.

Christina is 13 when her life begins to change for the worse. With her parents divorced and her father jailed for drug dealing, Christina is sent for counseling with Jared, the man she soon discovers is secretly seeing her mother. Not knowing where to focus her rage, Christina finds herself in front of her school and starts smashing windows until the police arrive. From this point, the more Christina gets into trouble, the more she feels she is getting back at her mother. The only person to take an interest in Christina is her grade 10 homeroom teacher, Ms Cooper, who persuades the principal not to expel her. Christina is placed into the Safe School program, to be monitored constantly by Ms Cooper in hopes of putting Christina on the right path. Through Ms Cooper's intervention and a visit with her father at the jail, Christina begins to realize that there are people around her who do care about her. When Christina is framed by two boys for not giving in to their sexual advances, Christina must prove her innocence to the one person who trust in her counts the most: Ms Cooper.

     Part of the "HIP Edge" series of hi/lo books for teens, Breaking Free is one of several titles designed to put reluctant readers in touch with realistic, fast-moving stories about young adults facing significant challenges. As a narrative, Breaking Free doesn't meet the publisher's descriptors of 'cool,' 'dangerous' or 'edgy.' By the series' nature, the story is expectedly strong on plot and minimal on character development. Within the book's 98 pages, the protagonist goes from stellar student to juvenile halfway houses, moving into her guidance counselor's home, and lapsing into a three-week coma after a vicious fight with several boys. The reader has to question the plausibility of some scenes — for example, the day after waking from the coma, Christina escapes from the hospital by stealing her still-bloodied clothes from an unlocked drawer by the nurses' station and walking out the door without anyone noticing her disturbing appearance.

     Since the story is told in the first person, Christina does provide the reader some insight into her character ("Instead of a quiet, scared little girl, I changed into a proud, loud criminal.") The author creates conflict for Christina through relationships with one-dimensional characters (the caring guidance counselor, the hateful mother, the unfeeling school principal, the aggressive jock named Brad) to explore such issues as trust, honesty and respect. Unfortunately, contrary to the series' 'edgy' billing, the dialogue falls flat and often didactic, sterilized of the profanity one would expect to hear from the darker, rougher characters. Instead, individuals resort to using names like 'snotface,' 'jerk' and 'pig.'

     If readers manage to make it to the end, they will be rewarded with a saccharine conclusion in which Jared leaves Christina's abusive mother, Ms Cooper becomes Christina's foster mother, her father is released from jail, and Christina's now-reformed friend, Denny, joins her in helping out at the animal shelter, picking up garbage around the school, and visiting classes to share with students their story and the message "Don't beat up on yourself to get back at your parents. It's simple. Really."

     Packaged with an appealing cover, the inside illustrations add little to the work except to provide a visual break from the text.

     Used in a school setting, Breaking Free (and its accompanying Teacher's Guide) will provide an opportunity for educators to connect reluctant readers with the theme of descent into an unhealthy lifestyle, and the road back. For public library settings, the cover will hook the browser, but ultimately they may be disappointed enough by the content to avoid other titles in the "HIP Edge" series.

Recommended with reservations.

Thom Knutson is the Youth Services Coordinator at Saskatoon (SK) Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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