________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 24. . . .February 26, 2010


Last December.

Matt Beam.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2009.
156 pp., pbk., $14.00.
ISBN 978-0-14-305656-0.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4



And then, I donít know why, Sam, I started thinking about what Byron said, especially about nukes and how we were all going to get blown up and become zero, and it suddenly made me want to run over to Maís room and hug her to death, so that we would never be separated from one another, but it was like I couldnít, and maybe I felt like we were sort of already separated, getting more and more separated every day. And I guess it was like with Mr. Davisís science explosion experiments ĖĖ all of Byronís ideas were like chemicals put into a beaker, but instead of a beaker, his crazy ideas were put into my brain, and instead of making a small explosion right away like they were supposed to, the chemicals were forgotten in a corner in the science lab, just waiting for the right temperature and agitation level and catalyst to blow me and my life to high heaven.

Welcome to Stevenís world. Heís just moved to a new high school and has a crush on Jenny. A skinhead and a mod beat him up. He discovers friendship with Byron, an 18-year-old dropout and Pac-Man expert. His friends talk him into trying out smoking and drinking. His dad died when he was one, and now his mom is pregnant, but the babyís father, Mike, didnít stick around.

     With these many and varied plot lines, itís no wonder that one of the themes of the book is chaos and how to find some sort of meaning in a world full of challenges. Steven appears to be heading for increasing chaos as he begins going to parties, causing problems for himself at school and treating his mother and the lady next door with more and more disdain and rudeness. He considers all kinds of ways, some of them drastic, to either regain some order in his world or simply escape completely.

     This novel has a cast of interesting and complex characters. Steven is a 15-year-old who expresses his feelings in the form of a journal which he calls a letter to Sam, his unborn sister. This style of writing lends itself to stream of consciousness, and Stevenís mind meanders along a variety of pathways: hockey, science and sex to name only a few. Author Matt Beam is able to portray the hopes and fears of an adolescent boy with both accuracy and empathy and leads Steven and the reader through this emotional labyrinth to a satisfying conclusion.

     One small note: the cover art and the quotation on the cover of the novel give the impression this is a book which centres on the sport of hockey. Although the Maple Leafs and hockey stars from 1982 are mentioned in the novel, the sport is by no means central to the book. Instead the game and manoeuvres within it become a metaphor for life itself.


Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON.

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