CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 24. . . .February 25th, 2010.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2011.
213 pp., pbk., $11.95.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Amy Dawley.
*** / 4
Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.
Instead, I described the embarrassing trip to the drugstore and the hideous appointment at the Sexual Health Clinic. "I'm never going through that again."
He was quiet for a minute. What was he thinking? What was he feeling?
"I'm sorry, Natalie," he said finally. "I guess I took advantage of you."
He exhaled heavily: he was smoking.
"But I wasn’t just calling to apologize."
I knew it.
My heart was pounding. I wanted to hear in words what I'd seen in his eyes that afternoon. A confession of feeling.
"No." He paused and inhaled again. "I-I'd like to see you again."
That wasn't nearly enough. "I'm in Vancouver."
"Yeah, and I’m going out clubbing tonight."
I told Kevin what Monique had said: When I'm finished with you, you won’t even need fake ID.
He snorted. "Watch out for older guys. They're only after one thing."
I sputtered. "You're an older guy, Kevin. What does that say about you?"
"There's an exception to every rule, Natalie."
"And you’re it."
When I hung up the phone, I was shaking.
It’s the end of the school year, and 15-year-old Natalie is looking forward to working on her dance skills in summer camp with her friends. However, not all of her friends share her passion to continue on in dance. Summer jobs and other interests have gotten in the way of dancing, and Natalie watches helplessly as her friends from dance go their separate ways. Girls who were once best friends become distant as everything around them changes. At first, Natalie handles this change well, but she can only hold on for so long. It used to be that she could count on her absentee dad’s weekly phone calls to see how she and her younger sister were doing, but those phone calls have stopped coming. When Natalie piques the interest of her best friend’s older 19-year-old brother Kevin, Natalie’s already tenuous grip on her own life starts to unravel.
To Natalie, the allure of a more mature, older “man” is irresistible, and she finds herself enamored by Kevin’s attention and affections. At first, Natalie is able to check Kevin’s hasty advances and do only what feels right, but, as their relationship progresses, it is clear that Natalie is unable to maintain her boundaries where Kevin is involved. To make matters worse, Natalie’s friend (and Kevin’s sister) Sasha finds out that she is dating Kevin, and things go from bad to worse. With no friends to turn to and an absent mother who is absorbed in her own romantic life, Natalie spirals downward into an unhealthy relationship with Kevin who becomes increasingly aggressive, demanding, and controlling. With no support from parents or friends when she needs them most, Natalie loses her grip on who she is and what she wants for herself. All that’s left of Natalie’s old life is her passion for dance, and, in the end, it is the constancy of dance in her life that keeps Natalie from truly losing herself. As the title suggests, Natalie must put her faith in what’s positive in her life and in the end she takes a chance and leaps into the great unknown that is her future.
Jodi Lundgren has written a sometimes startlingly realistic and heart-wrenching novel in Leap. Readers will alternately be cheering Natalie on while, at other moments, they will be wanting to shake some sense into her. The overwhelming confusion and loneliness of navigating first loves and first sexual encounters ring true in this book as do the grim realities of unprotected sex. At the advice of an older friend from dance, Natalie reluctantly visits the pharmacy for a morning after pill and makes an appointment at the sexual health clinic for STI tests. As with any truly realistic teen book that deals with gritty subject matter, there is the occasional use of four-letter words.
The plot lines that have to do with Natalie’s dealing with her friends, family, and the overwhelming confusion that comes with them are what make Leap such a strong novel. However, at times, the relationship between Natalie and Kevin feels heavy-handed and somewhat didactic. Indeed, the “older boyfriend taking advantage of the younger, naive girlfriend” is over-used and clichéd, and Leap might have been a better story if this relationship was more intricate and complicated. Despite this failing, Leap would make an excellent addition to libraries whose teens hunger for those realistic, problem novels where main characters struggle against all odds.
Amy Dawley is the teen librarian at the Prince George Public Library in Prince George, BC.
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