CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 19. . . .January 21, 2011
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2010.
258 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Jeff Nielsen.
Certain things need saying about my history with Skye Derucci before I'll able to go forward with my story of what happened those two days in March when I landed in never-ending hot-lava hell, my heart pinned underneath a pitchfork. (That would be a good example of hyperbole and metaphor to some. To me it is understatement.)
With Pluto's Ghost, Sheree Fitch has created the best kind of adolescent literature; that kind which appeals to adolescents as easily as it does to those who love their literature without qualifying adjectives. That Nova Scotia's Fitch, an accomplished writer of literature for children and adults, should succeed with her first foray into the world of YA should come as no surprise.
The book tells the story of Jake Upshore, a young dyslexic misfit from Poplar Hills, NS, on a quest to find the love of his life, Sky Derucci, who has fled town in the wake of scandal and rumour.
The plot employs road trips, colourfully quirky characters, murder and romance to keep you reading as if your life depended on it. Jake is a unique narrator, and Fitch has to pull out all the stops in her writing to communicate effectively with Jake's fractured vocabulary. "I'm just a fug." Jake says in describing himself. "F-u-g. That's fug. As in majorly f*d up-guy. While reviewers of Pluto's Ghost dredge up Holden Caulfield, there is really no confusing Jake Upshore with J.D. Salinger's most famous protagonist. (Though, if I could offer all authors appropriating the adolescent male voice one easy way to avoid the Catcher comparison, it would be simply to avoid the adjective goddam, which, while not a crucial aspect of modern teen parlance, is Holden's defining verbal tic). While Holden is a child born into urban privilege, Jake is the kind of kid who was born into a hole and just kept digging, more like a Bruce Springsteen song in print than anything. More fitting comparisons in contemporary literature dealing with a troubled and tongue-tied teens might be Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or perhaps a less vulgar version of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little.
There are moments in the novel when Fitch's concern for Jake becomes a little too intertwined with her proxy, guidance counselor, Ms. Sheppard (a.k.a. Shep) for instance when she takes on the school principal over whether Jake should be allowed on a field trip to Washington, DC. In those cases, Fitch runs the risk of romanticizing Jake as some sort of e.e.-cummings-quoting-James-Dean-bad-boy; however, she always pulls up back from the brink, allowing the reader to see how Jake's anger has sabotaged so much in his life.
Due to its strong language and frank discussion of sexuality, Pluto's Ghost is definitely a book more suitable for teens between 14 and 17 (and their teachers, who would be well-served by getting an inside view of the Jakes in their own classrooms). So, for those readers who are ready for a mature challenge, let them journey down into the Luray Caverns and come face-to-face with Pluto's Ghost.
Jeff Nielsen teaches high school English in Lorette, MB, and has never gone spelunking.
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