CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2008.
284 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Fate and fatalism-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Sukh said nothing, but stood up, rubbing his arm where heed just been pinched. He looked at everyone, wondering why they were staring at him. "You guys just don't get it," he said finally, shaking his head. "You just don't get it."
He walked to the window and for a long moment just stared out. He turned back to them. The attention the three gave him made him uncomfortable. He turned and looked out the window again.
He finally spoke: "Were all going to die!"
All were silent except for Cassidy, who let out a tiny gasp. The only other noise was the territorial chattering from a squirrel outside.
Moments went by before Jeremy released his breath in an uncomfortable laugh and responded exactly how he had when Kyle said the same thing the night before. "Of course, you dork. Everyone dies!"
"Yeah," Sukh responded. "Everyone dies. But us, were going at the same time. Together." He paused for a moment to let it sink in, then repeated it to make sure they understood. "Were all going to die together."
Four teens – Cassidy, Jeremy, Kyle and Sukh – have grown up together in a small town in the BC interior and have been best friends since kindergarten. They are involved in a serious snowmobile accident and are lucky to survive. But all of them have vague and frightening memories from the time of the accident, including lists of names. These names argent anyone they know, and yet all four teens saw the same names. Could these be people who died at the time of their accident? Or who will die when they do in the future? The teens begin to wonder if they are fated to die together at some predestined time. It seems the only logical way to avoid this possible disaster is to never again all be in the same place at the same time. They draw lots, deciding to pair up and always keep separate from the other pair. Oddly enough, after a series of exciting and unforeseen adventures, the four do end up together at the end of the book.
Pfitzenmaier grabs readers right from the opening page with a vivid description of the snowmobile accident and the rescue of the teenagers. Within this account are flashbacks for each main character which show readers just how interconnected their lives are. As life returns to normal, Pfitzenmaier uses text messages among the friends, a technique which quickly moves the plot along as well as being typical of their age group.
Pfitzenmaier's descriptions make each character memorable and distinct; this is not a four-person "blob." Jeremy deals with his divorced father's new girlfriend and an eventual disastrous move to live with his mother in Vancouver. Kyle pursues his motocross dreams and is clearly the daredevil of the group, testing fate in many ways. Sukh, who is Indo-Canadian, also ends up in Vancouver for a time and is involved with cousins who are in trouble with the law. Cassidy is just happy to hang out with her friends, although she worries about some of the boys' antics. Pfitzenmaier has invented characters who are very realistic and whose friendship and willingness to be there for one another will ring true with teen readers. Through each character, various subplots are delicately woven into the book.
Pfitzenmaier also considers the question of near death experiences. Do they really happen? Just how seriously should we take them? The teens feel they are destined to die together which raises interesting discussions and feelings among them about religion and beliefs. Do they tempt fate by staying together as a group? Is there any way for human beings to actually cheat fate? Is giving up their friendship worth the chance of cheating fate?
Cheating Fate is a compelling book for young adult readers. Adults complement the main characters and add to the plot, but it is the teen friends who are the focus. They go through some typical struggles with school and romance, but this novel digs deeper than that and touches on mortality, spirituality and the importance of friendship in effective and thought-provoking ways. Keep a copy – or more! – on library or classroom shelves as this is bound to be a hit with teen readers.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and former teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a second career as a travel consultant.
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