________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 3. . . .September 17, 2010


Cellular. (Orca Soundings).

Ellen Schwartz.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2010.
115 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55469-296-5 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55469-297-2 (hc.).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Laura Dunford.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



My dad goes into the bathroom. I hear the water running, hard, and the toilet flushing at the same time. Thereís a long pause. He comes out, red-eyed, not looking at me. I want to scream at him to cut it out. Yeah, I know heís worried. But Iím the one who needs to fall apart.

I want to curl up in his lap and howl. But I canít, because Iím afraid to make him worse. Because every time I see him, he gives me the fake smile and the pat on the back, even though I want to tell him to stop the bull, I canít.

Seventeen-year-old Brendan is a popular student at his high school. He is captain of the basketball team, has plenty of friends and a gorgeous girlfriend. But when the coach starts benching him because he can no longer keep up with his team mates and he is unable to have sex with his girlfriend, Brendan realizes something is very wrong. A diagnosis of leukemia destroys Brendanís positive outlook, and as he begins his first round of chemotherapy, he takes his anger out on the people who love him the most. The only person Brendan feels connected to is Lark, another cancer patient who has a relentlessly optimistic outlook on life.

     What ultimately holds the story back is the authorís failure to capture an authentic teen voice. Cellular is written in the first person, narrated by Brendan whose voice moves between two extremes. When the reader is introduced to Brendan, he has an uncomfortably edgy and sexually explicit tone that abruptly turns sickly-sweet as soon as Lark enters the story. Only in the moments when Brendan wrestles with his anger toward his friends and family as they attempt to comfort him, does his character ring true. These scenes are genuinely moving and sustain the readerís interest in Brendanís story.

      Cellular is one of many teen novels that focus on a popular teen protagonist brought down by a diagnosis of cancer. Unfortunately, Schwartz is unable to separate this particular teen cancer narrative from its predecessors with a memorable character or unique perspective.

Recommended with reservations.

Laura Dunford is a graduate of the Master of Arts in Childrenís Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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