CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.
The Way It Works. (Rapid Reads).
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2010.
111 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Beth Maddigan.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
There’s no way I can afford to part with that much money. I decide to come clean with the guy. I hope he takes pity on me.
“Look, man,” I say, “Two hundred bucks is practically all I have. I can’t afford that. And I need this car. I…I live in it. I got nowhere else. Times are tough. This is my home right now.”
I was hoping he would understand. But when he hears I’m homeless, that seems to make things worse. It’s like a magic word in reverse. When somebody hears it, they harden their hearts against you. It’s like you’ve got a sickness, and they don’t want any part of it.
Twenty-year-old Walter Davis is charming and has a seemingly effortless resilience. He is determined to change his current, unenviable situation: homeless and living in his car with no job. But his difficulties continue to mount as the novel unfolds: Walter’s first day at a new job is a disaster, and he quickly alienates the girl of his dreams. His cheerful attitude and strength of character help him remain positive as he faces his daily challenges head on.
This novel is part of a new Orca series called “Rapid Reads,” the first four novels having debuted in the Spring. The Way It Works is one of three titles scheduled for release in the Fall of 2010. The series concept (short books for adult readers) is a novel one, and readers struggling with literacy issues or learning English will appreciate the simple, straightforward style and plot-driven narratives. Orca affirms that the focus of the series will be well-written, engaging stories, but this novel only delivers on half of that promise.
The contemporary themes in this novel are welcomed in our socially-conscious society. Understanding that homelessness is not a choice, and that any of us, having endured a string of bad luck, could face the same situation is an important message. But this story sounds trite when it tackles the most difficult topics. It dips into cliché areas and loses its believability when Walter’s down-on-his-luck friend from the homeless shelter, Scooby, cleans himself up and gets a shave because Walter gives him a chance on a new business venture. And the ending, a neatly wrapped package that begs to have its wrapping wrinkled, is a disappointment.
However, these weaknesses do not completely erase the novel’s strengths. The characterization is strong, especially given the plot-driven nature of the novel. Yolanda, Walter’s love interest, has a wonderfully diverse family, and her brief appearances in the novel are refreshing. Walter, though his naiveté is a little implausible for someone that had a two-week stay in a homeless shelter, is a likeable character that readers will champion. Diverse cultures, sensitive contemporary issues and social injustice are all difficult topics tackled appropriately without diverting the story.
Overall, this is a book that will find an audience of English language learners and high school students, especially those that enjoyed the “Orca Soundings” series but have matured beyond the content. The discussion-worthy issues and themes are delivered via a high caliber plot and efficient style of writing.
Beth Maddigan is a children’s librarian and instructor in St. John’s, NL.
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