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


What is Real.

Karen Rivers.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
285 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-356-6.

Grade 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Alicia Cheng.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I am slumped on my bed, staring out the window at the sprawl of the cornfield, and I don't know who I am here or what to do with my hands, but here I am.

I am Dex Pratt. I am seventeen years old. I am living at home with my dad. I have a girlfriend. I have friends. Summer is winding down and school is about to begin. I don't have to know more than this, but I want to know more than this. I feel like I'm watching a movie and everyone else knows something about the plot, the key to it, and I don't know it. Or I was in the bathroom when the secret was revealed and now I'm just watching.

Except it's more like the movie is watching me.

I am the movie.

That's Dex Pratt, a 17-year-old's life turned upside down. His perfect family is gone. His entire life is thrown out the window. There are no more nice houses, new cars, the stereotypical upscale lifestyle. He's now dealing with his parents' divorce, his mother's remarriage, his father's attempt at suicide, and the list goes on. Because of his dad's suicidal attempt, Dex returns to live with his wheelchair-bound dad in a deteriorating old rental house at the back of a cornfield. Besides these problems, Dex's father has also become a drug addict as well as a marijuana grower in his own home.

      With all the issues that Dex is facing, he starts to smoke marijuana. He loses touch of what is his reality and what is his imagination. Are the aliens real? Does the girl of his dreams really exist? What about the cornfield behind the rented house? The crop circle? Dex's surreal state takes away his pain, and he becomes an outsider to his own surroundings. It seems like he is watching his own movie play out before him. Or, is he the movie, and the movie is watching him?

      Karen Rivers is a prolific young adult author whose books have been nominated for many literature awards. Each chapter in this novel is labeled with the date as Rivers goes back and forth in time. Some chapters are written as movie scripts. This writing style is confusing at times, but it is a realistic portrayal of Dex's life. He is confused about his state of mind, and so Rivers' writing fits in with Dex's mentality. Although the plot is difficult to grasp because of the jumps, this novel is, nevertheless, an intriguing read as it is a practical approach to the way he sees his life. The reader is left with interesting thoughts to ponder upon what's real and what's a dream?

Highly Recommended.

Alicia Cheng is a Children's Librarian at Vancouver Public Library in Vancouver, BC.

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

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