CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 2. . . .September 11, 2009
One Lonely Degree.
C.K. Kelly Martin.
New York, NY: Random House (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2009.
243 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
Coming of age-Fiction.
Grades 9-11 / Ages 14-16.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
I nodded and watched him shut the door, the sickness stretching tight across my face the moment he was gone. My skin feels that same way now. Like a mask that doesn't fit anymore. Like I'm not the person anyone thinks I am –– not even Audrey. But if I'm not that person, just who am I instead? I'm not the girl who slinks soundlessly through the school hall pretending nothing can touch her. That much I do know.
Listen, I tell myself. Just listen. Listen. Everything will be all right, as long as you stop your mind and listen.
And this is the way it goes for a while. Me listening to Raine's voice in my ear. Me waiting for Dad's key in the door. My heels are itchy dry in my socks. My lips are cracking and my fingertips will be next. The air in my room is colder than anywhere else in the house except the basement. My mother says she doesn't know how I can stand it, but I like the contrast. This is me in bed in the middle of winter.
Everything will be all right.
Finn's life is becoming more and more complicated. She is dealing with a bad experience at a party and can only divulge the ugly details to Audrey, her best—and only—friend. Jersy, Finn's childhood friend, has just moved back to town, and soon he's dating Audrey, with Finn's blessing. But Audrey's parents think the relationship is getting too serious and so send her to her aunt's for the summer. Can Finn help it if she and Jersy become closer with Audrey out of the picture? Is this how you treat your best friend? Suddenly Finn doesn't know herself any more. She seems out of place everywhere. Her emotions are out of control, and she's convinced she's the freakiest girl at St Mark's.
C.K. Kelly Martin does a superb job of getting inside the head and heart of a 15-year-old. Finn's worries, her emotions and her inability to cope with the many changes in her life ring true. Whether or not readers empathize with this main character, they can certainly see why she behaves as she does. The supporting cast of characters is large, and generally they come to life as well. Audrey is the stalwart best friend who can be relied upon in any circumstance—until Jersy appears and turns the girls' friendship into an awkward triangle. Billy Young is a typical stoner—until Finn gets to know him a little better. Adam Porter is every girl's dream—until Finn's encounter with him at the party. Finn's own family seems stable and consists of herself, younger brother Daniel, mother and father, a school teacher. But Finn realizes her parents haven't been happy for a long time and so, despite counselling, her dad decides to move to a cottage for the summer and get his own apartment in the fall. Understandably, Finn is reeling from the repercussions of so many upheavals in her world.
Although the characters are well-described and feel authentic, the plot of the novel doesn't seem to succeed. The action revolves solely around Finn's emotions and feelings, and by the end of the novel she doesn't seem to have particularly changed or progressed. Other than emotional highs and lows, there is very little tension in the book, and by the final pages the plot has simply drifted into many loose ends which are unresolved. There seems to be no conclusion to the novel. These loose ends are bits of subplots which give the impression that Martin is attempting too many things at once. There is the issue of making and keeping friends and how to treat them appropriately. Relationships and romance form a large part of the book's plot as Finn seems to fall in love with one person after another. Family dysfunction and divorce, the use of drugs by teenagers, sexual assault and date rape... they all make their appearance in the book, yet without being fully explored.
Given a main character who is 15, one would tend to recommend the novel for teens who are just slightly younger, perhaps ages 12-15. But One Lonely Degree contains rough language and the date rape scene is explicit, so it may not be suitable for tweens or younger teenage readers. However, older teens are likely to find the plot rather thin and feel the book is a soap opera of emotions and relationships without much underlying substance.
C.K. Kelly Martin's first young adult novel, I Know It's Over was an extraordinary book for this age group, and One Lonely Degree doesn't live up to the expectations set by its predecessor. Teenage girls wanting page after page of teen angst and emotion will enjoy the read. Others may be more content to wait for Martin's next work.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and 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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