________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 41 . . . . June 24, 2011

cover

Tilt.

Alan Cumyn.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2011.
269 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-110-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55498-119-9 (hc.).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.

   

excerpt:

Then he limped over to the spot on the fence where the girl had disappeared just minutes before. He pulled himself up the chain link. There was even a space in the rusty barbed wire that he could see would be almost easy to slither through. He peered into the darkness through the leaves.

She had just arrived late last year. It must have been hard for her coming into the school knowing nobody. Especially with a name like Igwash.

He was gazing across a backyard. Janine's? A light snapped on in an upstairs bedroom. Someone's shadow against the curtains. Spiky hair. Maybe she was about to undress, her silhouette black against the white screen. It was hard to see through the leaves, but it sure looked like she was tugging at her shirt.

He climbed down. His knee felt better. He snapped a few high kicks without the broom handle, then punched the air six times rapid-fire, a quick exhalation with each strike. Then he retrieved the basketball again and let loose a turnaround jumper without looking, entirely by feel. The ball hit the back of the rim, then the front, then the back, then spun out and bounced, the sound echoing down the dark alley.

The perfect jump shot begins in the soles of the feet. It moves like a wave through the calves and the thighs up to the hips and along the spine to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand and out the fingertips, a natural stroke as at ease in the universe as an ocean wave that curls and falls. Easier than breathing. Truer than thought.


Stan is a 16-year-old whose ambition in life is to play on the junior varsity basketball team. He spends hours on the court, just by himself, practising shots to prepare for tryouts coming up soon. It is hard to stay focused, however, since life at home is chaotic. His mom is likely to lose her job soon, and meanwhile she is dating an irresponsible and incompetent man named Gary. Stan's sister, Lily, has been designated exceptional at school but misbehaves at home and still wets her bed. Just when it seemingly couldn't get worse, Stan's father arrives on the doorstep with his young son Feldon. Has he continued his pattern of neglecting responsibility, or has his new wife thrown him out for someone younger? And how can he imagine he will ever re-integrate into the family?

      The real reason for Stan's lack of focus, however, is Janine. When he is with her, he can't seem to think, speak or even move normally. When he isn't with her, she is constantly in his thoughts and his dreams. Stan is obsessed with her, with sex, and with the possibility of a relationship. Yet school gossip says Janine is tilted: "tilted = GWOG = goes with other girls = Janine Igwash = everybody else knows, ok?" (page 42). Is she really interested in Stan, or is he just a convenient cover so her family won't guess she is lesbian?

      Alan Cumyn is an award-winning author of novels for both adults and children. His writing is smooth and fluid with everything seen from Stan's point of view. There is a flow to the novel, which is stream-of-consciousness writing, allowing readers to see and understand Stan's thought processes through internal monologues as well as through his interactions with others. Most of these thoughts centre on sex his own urges, what Janine might or might not feel in return, and the odds of luring her into bed with him. Stan is a sexual novice and not too sure what his approach should be, but he knows what he wants.

      Cumyn's other major theme is that of family dynamics. Stan's mother appears incapable of dealing with her home, her children, her job, even the TV remote control. Little sister Lily spends much of her time in an imaginary world, more real and more important to her that her actual surroundings. Somehow, Stan deals with both of them, ever mindful that he doesn't want to imitate his father's outbursts of temper or his incapacity to establish and maintain a stable family environment. In the end, Stan has matured enough to recognize some of the reasons behind his parents' behaviour, though he neither accepts not condones the behaviour itself.

      Young adult readers will find a great deal to enjoy in this novel and perhaps will willingly accept some of the more extreme characters and behaviours described. Certainly they will relate to Stan's lack of assurance about sex as well as his overwhelming physical and emotional need for a relationship with Janine. Sex scenes are handled with care but are a large part of the novel, whether in Stan's mind or in reality. Stan's coming-of-age and maturing revolves almost exclusively from what he learns in his efforts to connect with Janine. Teen readers will also appreciate the backdrop of high school, basketball, dances and learning to drive all part of the stepping stones toward adulthood.

      Tilt certainly may refer to Janine's sexual orientation, but Stan also seems to often feel his entire world is somehow tilted or upside down: "Everything was tilted. The whole way home he felt like he had no idea what the next step might bring." (page 236) While most of the story revolves around Stan and Janine and their fumblings toward a sexual relationship, Cumyn provides a cast of other characters who, while perhaps stretching our credibility, certainly present a world full of emotions, excitement and humour. Life for Stan is absurd and full of complications but definitely well worth the living.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

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

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