CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2011.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2011.
141 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $8.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-55277-715-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55277-716-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55277-717-2 (ebook).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Karen Boyd.
On Monday morning I’m late for school and rush down the hallway, shaking my wet hair from the rain. I don’t even notice until I get to my locker, and there it is spray-painted right on the door:
The letters are thick and black, dripping. My instinct is to walk right past the locker like it isn’t mine. But then I notice a few kids whispering and looking at me, even the nice ones.
Sixteen-year-old Ariel is struggling to adjust to yet another upheaval in her life. Her widowed, disabled mother has had to move them again, this time to the poorest area code in Canada – Vancouver’s east side. The move means that Ariel has to leave her school, her friends, and her pride behind and start again. In the teenaged world of first impressions, Ariel is judged by her appearance. With unwanted attention from boys, she quickly gets the reputation as a “skank”. Feeling lost in her new world, Ariel decides to stop fighting against this label, making decisions that put her in danger both physically and emotionally. While Ariel is distanced from her old friends, her new friend Raven has her back while dealing with her own issues. Ariel’s lack of self esteem leads to a critical event with dangerous Julian, a porn producer who recognizes and capitalizes on Ariel’s vulnerabilities. Ariel is shocked into reflecting on her decisions about her actions and whom she can trust. After an abrupt ending, the novel has an epilogue that updates the reader on many of the characters.
There are several interesting subplots in Skank. Raven’s mother is a drug-addicted prostitute, and her sister is lost on the “highway of tears.” Raven becomes the caregiver to Ariel while searching for her sister and watching her mother. Raven’s non-judgmental assessment of all of these situations serves as a nice counterpoint to Ariel’s self-absorption. Ariel’s family situation also provides an interesting backdrop. Her father was killed in a bus accident while working the sound system for an 80s band. Her mother has stayed very close to his best friend and his wife, and Ariel finds out that the relationship is more than she thought it was. She quickly connects this with her own reputation and blames her mother for this. These subplots seem at first surfacely dealt with, but, in fact, they serve to show Ariel’s self absorption in her own misery.
As an addition to Lorimer’s “Sidestreets” series, Skank is an example of “edgy, fast-paced novels that combine real-world themes and believable characters to make for short, heart-stopping books—sure to engage the most reluctant reader” that Lorimer describes on their website. With the exception of the abrupt ending and subsequent epilogue, the story is well-developed and paced. The characters, particularly Ariel, are realistically portrayed, and motivations are implied rather than overtly stated. This implication suggests that, while the author is making the text accessible to reluctant readers, she is not talking down to them while doing so.
Skank is an engaging read and provides some great discussion points. There are so many women in this novel who are judged by their outward presentation to the world. These outward presentations make them vulnerable to a range of consequences, from bullying to rape to murder. Important issues to read talk and think about.
Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba.
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