CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 3. . . .September 17, 2010
Sarah N. Harvey.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2010.
212 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Jan Sahibzada.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"I don't need any help," he mutters. He turns around very slowly and walks away from me, leaving the door open. I stand on the doorstep, watching his progress, wondering if I should bail now and face my mom's wrath later. Fifteen an hour, I think, four hundred and fifty a week, eight hundred a month. It will be my mantra for the next four months. I step inside just as he says, "Can you make a decent cup of coffee?"
"Coffee? Yeah, I guess so. Unless you mean, like, a no-foam low-fat nutmeg cappuccino or something."
"I like a cafe au lait in the morning. Half coffee, half hot milk. Strong coffee. Think you can do that?"
"Not exactly loquacious, are you boy?" he says. "Kind of taciturn. Although you probably don't know what I'm talking about." He snickers.
"No, I'm not loquacious. I prefer to think of myself as laconic," I say. "Taciturn seems a bit negative. And I think talking is overrated." Take the hint, old man, I want to say. Just shut up. It'll be better for both of us.
Sixteen-year-old Royce "Rolly" Peterson wants only one thing – to return to the life he left behind in Nova Scotia. Life was good back East, but his mother had to drag him across the country to Victoria so that she could be close to her aged father, Arthur. Then one day, Royce's mother makes him an offer he can't refuse – get a crappy job at McDonalds or become the old man's caregiver and make enough money to buy a car and drive back to Nova Scotia. After the first day though, Royce isn't sure the money is worth spending time with the stubborn and cranky Arthur. The more time he spends with the old man, the more Royce starts to understand the man behind the crankiness and begins to appreciate the real Arthur and the life he has led.
Royce is a comical, likeable and thoughtful main character. The novel is told in first person from Royce’s point of view, and he is easy to relate to. Additionally, the relationship that develops between Royce and Arthur is strong throughout the book. Given the situation both characters find themselves in, it would have been easy to portray their relationship as simplistic or superficial. However, Harvey strikes a good balance between humour and sensitivity that makes the relationship feel authentic.
Another key strength of the novel is the plot. The pace of the novel is moderate and never feels rushed or forced, making it an enjoyable read. In the novel, Arthur is a celebrated and famous cellist, and consequently there are a number of classical music references sprinkled throughout, but there are also enough pop culture references (the Pussycat Dolls, Anderson Cooper and South Park, to name a few) to help situate the setting and characters. It isn’t difficult to imagine that other teens may experience feelings similar to those of Royce when dealing with the passing of a grandparent or older relative. The book ends with a slightly predictable conclusion that may leave some readers disappointed, but overall Death Benefits is a good story with strong characters that will appeal to a wide range of teen readers. Because there is some minor discussion about sex, drugs and drinking, the book is more appropriate for older teen readers.
Jan Sahibzada is a Community Outreach Librarian for Calgary Public Library’s Forest Lawn branch.
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