________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 16 . . . . April 3, 2009

cover Deadly Loyalties.

Jennifer Storm.
Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2007.
130 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-894778-39-8.

Grades 10-12 / Ages 15-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

* /4


We walked into the smoky house and put our bags down by the bedroom door.

"Hey, you guys smoking' (sic) up?" Lindsay yelled.

Laughter was all she had for response. She grabbed my hand and dragged me into the living room. "Let's get really high before the party tonight."

I nodded my head even though I was still baked.

"Hey, Blaise," Justice said.

I immediately felt my face flush because I had a feeling someone must've told him I like him.


"You look really hot tonight."

"Thanks." My hair and clothes were soaked and I knew this was a planned gesture and not a real compliment.

"Wanna hang out after the party?" he asked.


He smiled, then turned to Lindsay, who was smiling from ear to ear.

I sat down with Damion and nudged him, "Hey, blasted?" I asked.

He smiled and passed me a joint and answered, "Almost."

I watched Lindsay move from one guy to the next. If someone pushed her hand away, she'd look a little desperate, but she'd move on. Damion started giggling and teasing Lindsay.

She loved it. Damion was doing a lot more drugs then (sic) he usually lets himself. Maybe he was just trying to fit in. We hadn't been talking much lately, mostly just when he was high or wanted something like advice about girls. I felt like I was loosing (sic) my closeness with him and it made me feel slightly panicked. Other than Lindsay, Damion was all I had. It made me feel safe knowing he was there at night.

Fourteen-year-old Blaise, a native girl living in Winnipeg's infamous North End, witnesses the murder of her friend, Sheldon, by members of a rival gang. Another friend, 16-year-old dropout Damion, convinces her to hide out at his apartment and join Sheldon's gang with him. Happy to leave her mother and her latest boyfriend, Blaise immerses herself in gang life with Damion and 12-year-old Lindsay, shoplifting, attacking others with a pool ball in a sock, breaking and entering, and getting both drunk and high daily. Confused about which gang member she "loves," Blaise loses her virginity to Justice and simultaneously longs for Steve, a cool stranger she meets at a party. When Steve and his friends confront the gang about Blaise's bruises, Blaise realizes that Steve and company are members of the gang that killed Sheldon. After another gang confrontation, Blaise returns to her mother. Gangs in Canadian cities are currently receiving extensive media coverage as they murder each other and innocent bystanders in the battle to control the drug trade in Canada. It is unfortunate that this poorly written book may be purchased as teachers and teenagers try to understand the current gang problem in our society. This book was written when the author was fourteen. It reflects the quality of writing to be expected from a person of that age and has obviously been completely unedited. Not only are there many spelling and grammar errors, but also the usual teenage writing error, that of assuming the reader must be told everything, is clearly in evidence.

    Blaise is a boring, silly character who learns nothing and remains at the same foolish emotionally wrung-out level throughout. The justification for Blaise's joining the gang is weak: in spite of the murder, it's hard to understand why she leaves home and stays away when she claims to miss her mother so much and has such fond memories of her. Also unclear is why Blaise suddenly decides to return home. The male gang members clearly manipulate and control the girls; the gang's only motivation is to get and remain drunk or high while avoiding a rival gang. Fights are the order of the day as these emotionally bereft characters stumble along.

    The dialogue, rather than advancing the plot, revealing character, or exploring theme or setting, is comprised of grunt level conversations. ("Wanna get high?" "Totally." "So.what're we doing?" "Getting high." "Are you hungry?" "Yeah, actually.") Swearing dominates the conversations and thoughts of the characters.

     Although the setting is Winnipeg, "Osborne" is spelled wrongly, and indeed the cold park and deteriorating house scenes could take place in any decaying urban setting.

     Written approximately six or seven years ago, this book does not reflect the current crystal meth/cocaine drug scene.

     The critical necessity of remaining "loyal" to one's friends alive or dead no matter how badly they treat you (but not, apparently, to one's family) trumps developing any skills, becoming educated, learning a sport, telling or writing stories, singing, dancing or developing any spirituality or reverence, not to mention grace, wisdom or strength. What a sad book to read as two outstanding young native women are being recognized, one as a national dancing champion and the other as a unique veterinarian.

Not recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

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

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