________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2010

cover

Gravity Brings Me Down.

Natale Ghent.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2009.
240 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-0-385-66732-6.

Subject Headings:
Friendship-Juvenile fiction.
Self-discovery-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Caitlin Campbell.

**1/2 /4

excerpt:

It's a typical day with the usual conclusions: life sucks, and the only way out is the final exit, the big blue beyond. I'm not thinking of killing myself, really. I'm just weighing the possibilities. I like to know what my options are, especially when things get intolerably dull——which they do——a lot. It's kind of a rock, paper, scissors game I play with myself: pills, guns or trains.

People think it's morbid to talk about dying but, personally, I find it very liberating. It's all about choice and individual expression. It's also the biggest 'F-U' a person can send out to the world. I find that comforting. I'm sure there are concerned committees and legions of high school principals who would be horrified by my attitude. They'd point a self-righteous finger at my parents and decide I wasn't loved enough, or that they fed me too much sugar or cholesterol or something, but that's just a load. What can I say? I was born on a Wednesday; I'm full of woe.

 

Angst-ridden eleventh-grader Sioux Smith feels overwhelmed by life and thoroughly annoyed by everyone she knows in her small Ontario town (including her parents, her younger sister, the class nerd, her strange philosophy teacher, and generally all her fellow students). When Mabel, an elderly widow suffering from dementia, mistakes Sioux for her daughter Marie, an unlikely friendship is born as Sioux finds herself investing more and more of her time to taking care of the old woman (and less of her time at school or with her friends and family).

     A slightly morbid, less humorous version of Susan Juby's "Alice" series, Gravity Brings Me Down has some genuinely funny and affecting moments but unfortunately never quite succeeds in realistically portraying the subtleties of teen angst. While Sioux's disaffected, wry narration is original, the rest of the novel's cast lack freshness as Ghent relies heavily on clichéd characterization (including Sioux's melodramatic, possibly anorexic cheerleading sister, her microwave-fearing, Shakespeare-spouting mother, and the hapless geek who's in love with her). In addition to the main plot of Sioux and Mabel's friendship, Ghent includes a number of storylines that are not only distracting but never get resolved; we don't learn why Mabel's children have all but abandoned her, nor why the angry jock Biff reacts so hostilely towards Sioux (at one point punching her). Perhaps the strangest storyline is that of Sioux's contentious relationship with her philosophy teacher, Chocko. At one point in the novel, after leaving a bush party, Sioux happens upon Chocko's house where the high school football team has (inexplicably) gathered to indulge in some underage drinking. Despite her enmity for Chocko, Sioux enters the house in order to find a phone to call her dad but instead comes across a room which her philosophy teacher has meticulously covered wall-to-wall with photos of naked women. Sioux and her best friend later break into Chocko's house so they can destroy the pictures, an act which inevitably leads to Chocko's unexplained public breakdown at the end of the book. This plotline and the character of Chocko are bizarre and feel out of place; plus we never get any insight into Chocko's personality or the reasons behind his hatred for Sioux.

     Though it has its moments, Gravity Brings Me Down is an uneven, often unsatisfying novel.

Recommended with reservations.

Caitlin Campbell has a Master of Arts in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia and is currently attending the University of Michigan's School of Information where she specializes in school library media.

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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