________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 20. . . .January 29, 2010


Last Chance. (Side Streets). [Former title: Falling Through the Cracks.]

Lesley Choyce.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2009.
149 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55277-444-1 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55277-445-8 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Abused children -Juvenile fictions.
Ruaway children -Juvenile fictions.
Street children - Juvenile fictions.

Grade 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Kay Weisman.

** /4



Sixteen is a rough age for a girl to be away from home living on her own. Anything is better than the street. Anything, that is except for living at home. Home is probably not the right word, though. You see, there was this place where I grew up with my . . . let’s call them my biological mother and my totally illogical father. I used to call them Mom and Dad. And there had been good times at first, but for the last few years all they ever told me was that I was selfish and stupid, until I was starting to believe them. I was so used to taking crap that I was convinced I was no good.

Sixteen-year-old Melanie is living on the streets of Halifax when she meets Trent, also homeless. Because they are both trying to stay in school and Trent knows how tricky that can be if you are homeless he invites Melanie to crash at his apartment. Together, they struggle at menial jobs, working 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. at Donut World, and desperately try to stay awake at school during the day. When their paychecks are delayed for a week, a cash emergency ensues for the rent is already overdue and eviction is just around the corner. The pair considers various options out of their difficulties: dropping out of school, going into a group home, and Melanie becoming pregnant. Eventually the moody Trent tells Melanie he has landed a night job loading boxes. In reality, he has dropped out of school to become a male prostitute.

     Choyce’s stark novel, previously published as Falling Through the Cracks in 1996, offers a frank, although not necessarily hopeless, portrayal of life for teenaged runaways. Unfortunately, the plot consists of an ever-escalating string of trials and tribulations, and there is little character development. Melanie, for example, seems much too adult for her years. Choyce makes it clear that she was right in leaving her verbally abusive parents, but it seems unrealistic for her to be so much wiser than every adult around her. Her only “growth” as a character comes at the end when she learns how to manipulate the social service system in order to get money so that she and Trent can continue living on their own. Trent, too, is a problematic character. He is variously described as smart, protective, moody, prone to bursts of anger, and finally, out of the blue, homosexual. It begins to feel as if Choyce had a checklist of issues that he wanted to include in his description of runaway kids.

     Given that so many teens go through periods of strained parental relationships when they contemplate leaving home, this is a book that has a kind of didactic appeal. Unfortunately, Choyce offers no examples of teens and parents even attempting to work through their difficulties, only a catalog of what can go wrong on the streets and one example of a system loophole.

Recommended with reservations.

Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

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

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