CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.
The Lighter Side of Life and Death.
C.K. Kelly Martin.
New York, NY: Random House (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada,), 2010.
231 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 9-11 / Ages 14-16.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
“And anyway, I didn’t want to talk about it,” she adds. “Even talking about it is too weird. We’ve been friends for so long; I can’t change the way I think that quickly. It just feels wrong. We should’ve just stayed friends. That’s what we’re best at.”
“I know that. That’s why yesterday was so cool for a while. It was like the old us.” My stomach twinges as I tear my gaze away. I don’t even know what I want most from her anymore and I guess it doesn’t matter. She’s already decided what she wants.
Kat groans and scrunches up her face. She’s so embarrassed that it’s uncomfortable to look at her. “I can’t do the old us anymore. I’d like to but it’s different, Mason. Especially now that everyone else knows. It’s like it’s official. There’s no going back.”
“We just need to relax.” I rest my hand on her shoulder without giving the motion a second thought. “It doesn’t have to be like that.” Kat stands ultra still, careful not to react, but I can see the proof in her eyes. It’s not the same when I touch her anymore. For her, it’s all about that single night.”
For 16-year-old Mason, it looks as if life couldn’t get any better. His love of acting has paid off with an incredible performance in his high school play, leading to the praise of family and friends. That same night, his love of Kat Medina, one of his very best friends, leads them to a take their relationship to a new level and have a sexual encounter, the first for both of them. This happy glow fades quickly when the play is finished. Mason’s family is enlarged by his dad’s fiancée and her two kids and – worst of all – Kat seems confused and upset about the new sexual aspect of their friendship. It seems like she’d prefer to just hit delete and carry on as if nothing happened between them. This confuses Mason, too, and so he does carry on – right into the welcoming arms of 23-year-old Colette. And life is abruptly much more complicated!
Mason is an outgoing and popular guy and a likable character who tried to be honest with himself and others while working out his feelings and learning to distinguish between the love and the lust, so well personified by Kat and Colette. His apparently genuine confusion leaves readers more sympathetic and understanding than they might otherwise be of his treatment of the two girls. There is a fine line between a close platonic friendship and a sexual relationship, and, once crossed, there is no going back. Mason is uncertain about his own reactions, let alone those of Kat, and yet, although Colette is exciting and it’s a very real ego boost to be with her, he realizes their relationship will never develop very far and is unlikely to last.
Martin seems to truly understand, care for and enjoy the characters she has created. As in I Know It’s Over, she speaks from the point of view of a male teen and manages to capture the love, the lust, the confusion, the hurt and a myriad of other emotions. As Mason himself says, “In the midst of all that I start thinking about that white-hot kiss from the other night too. The whole thing leaves me in this bizarre half-hungry, half-distracted state...” (page 94) Martin seems sympathetic toward Colette also. Although she is the ‘older woman’ in Mason’s life, she is only 23 and still figuring out her own life. The sex scenes between her and Mason are explicit without being sordid; intimate and tender while also somewhat awkward.
Of all the characters, Kat is perhaps the most interesting, leaving Mason wondering and, at first, providing little or no explanation for him, ignoring him as much as possible, yet still sending glances his way and passing the occasional note in class. However, in her own words, Kat says, “It just changes things. Since that night my feelings for you are all screwed up” (page 222) Here too, Martin portrays a believable character who is no longer quite a teen and yet not an adult. She has difficulty walking what has been a tightrope between teen and adult; between herself and Mason.
An entirely different aspect of Mason is displayed at home where his father’s fiancée and her two children are now part of the household. This adds humour to the novel as well as filling in more of Mason’s happy-go-lucky character. While Mason and young Burke hit it off, 13-year-old Brianna is another story. Like her cat, she is apt to attack, claws bared, at any moment and for any reason. This theme of a blended family adds a second dimension to the story and helps readers know and understand Mason a little better.
The beginning of the book seems awkward, with readers thrust into the play rather than reality and with too many characters thrown into the first few pages. However, as the novel evolves, readers quickly learn to distinguish who is who and the plot flows smoothly. There are party scenes and sex scenes, but Martin is empathetic and gentle with her teenage characters, allowing them the freedom to explore and experience without judging them. Readers watch as relationships bloom, die and then have a chance at blooming once again. Mason and Kat tantalize us in the final pages and leave us wondering where their friendship may eventually lead. But that remains a question best answered in our own imagination.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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