CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 15 . . . . December 9, 2011
Renfrew, ON: General Store Publishing House, 2011.
139 pp., pbk., $19.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Karen Rankin.
When Justin [Cassie’s twin brother] and I walked into the house, we were amazed. It was huge. We had been expecting a cottage, but this was a massive mansion. While Randy gave us the tour, I counted six bedrooms. Each had a balcony overlooking the lake.
“This house is so big, I can’t imagine what your city one is like,” I said with surprise.
“My father owns the biggest chain of grocery stores in Syracuse, so we’re lucky we can afford two houses.” Randy ignored my statement about what his home in the city looked like.
I knew immediately that the Rumballs must be wealthy. Before I’d stopped to think, I heard myself say, “We can hardly afford to live in one – and it’s only a condo.” My cheeks reddened when I reminded myself that not only did we live in a public housing unit, but also most of our furniture had been bought from thrift stores like the Salvation Army.
He looked at me with his engaging smile and said, “Money is less important than many other things in life, you know.”
I liked how Randy came from a wealthy family but didn’t flaunt it. It made me feel more comfortable with him. I was beginning to think that I could really like him, but we lived so far apart.
As he led us toward the back door he said, “Dad’s barbecuing some chicken for us down by the lake. Let’s go.”
He had just put his hand on the doorknob when we heard the low rumble of a speedboat. He glanced through the window. “That’s Marsha Taylor, a friend of mine,” he said. “She’s one of our players.”
“Hi, Randy!” she shouted, as she tied her boat to the dock, “I came over to meet the Canuks.” Dark-haired and deep-tanned with curves in all the right places, she appeared to be as slim and tall as me. She wore white cut-off shorts, strappy sandals that accentuated her long legs, and a sheer, body-hugging halter top. She also sported a diamond on the left side of her nose. I heard Justin whistle under his breath. Her shorts didn’t leave much to the imagination. Her green eyes were heavy with mascara and dark eye shadow. Her red lipstick shimmered from the sun’s rays as they filtered through the branches of the huge pine trees. I thought she looked ready to join a burlesque show. I could tell Randy didn’t think so.
“Is she your girlfriend, Randy?” I asked as we walked down the path to meet her.
“Uhh…” he stalled, “we see each other quite a bit.”
I wanted to think that he didn’t come right out and admit it because he had a new interest in me. But all doubts disappeared when Marsha put her arms around his neck and kissed him.
When she let go, Randy introduced us. She only glanced at me, but smiled warmly at Justin. Her first words were, “I can’t wait to hear you two say, ‘eh.’” Then, as she giggled at her insult, she put an arm around Randy and murmured, “Am I invited to your barbecue?”
“Oh sure, Marsha,” he replied, as he suddenly bent down to pick up a soccer ball.
I wondered if he stooped intentionally to release himself from Marsha’s arm. If he did, was he trying to downplay his relationship with Marsha in front of me? He wasn’t fooling me, Marsha was his girlfriend, and she wanted me to know it.
Seventeen-year-old Cassie enjoys and is skilled at both soccer and gymnastics. Her single mom hopes that Cassie and Justin, her twin brother, will win soccer scholarships to college. But Cassie is not sure that is what she wants. If she could only overcome her fear of heights, Cassie would like to be a flying-trapeze performer like her father, who was killed two years earlier in a fall from the circus aerialists’ high platform. Mom wants Cassie to forget about being an acrobat because of her husband’s accident and Cassie’s debilitating fear of heights, in addition to the fact that Cassie cannot win a college scholarship doing circus stunts. Cassie and her brother travel from their Ottawa home to Syracuse, New York for a 17- to 18-year-old Co-Ed Soccer Invitational Tournament at which the twins hope they’ll be spotted by college scouts. During the tournament in Syracuse, Cassie and Justin board with Randy, a handsome player on the opposing team. Although Cassie and Randy seem to have a mutual attraction, Randy also has a girlfriend. Over the course of the weekend, Cassie also learns that he’s a bit of a womanizer. Justin gets his scholarship offer, but Cassie is sidelined with an injury.
Back in Ottawa, Cassie, Justin and their mom go to see the circus that Cassie’s father worked for at the time of his death. Cassie meets Sorina, an aerialist, who lets her climb up to the high flying-trapeze platform. After Sorina shows Cassie how she takes off with the trapeze, one thing quickly leads to another and Cassie has her first frightening flight on the trapeze. Her fear of heights leads to her also having her first fall into the safety-net. It turns out that the aerialist’s father, Mr. Middleman, is the circus’s new owner. Cassie’s mom and Mr. Middleman – who’ve met previously, before their spouses died – are attracted to each other, and when Mr. Middleman learns of Cassie’s gymnastic skills, he offers to train her to be a flying trapeze artist with his circus. In the meantime, Randy’s wealthy parents offer to pay Cassie’s first year of college tuition at the same college that Randy will attend. Cassie eventually overcomes her fear of heights and decides to pursue a circus career, with Randy on the side.
Readers don’t learn much about Cassie in this contemporary story. She is tall and attractive, like most – if not all – of the other characters in the novel. She’s also a ‘boy-magnet’ who wears second-hand clothes and is passionate about sports and Randy, whom she considers more fascinating than the boys she usually dates and discards. Unfortunately, Cassie’s character is not rounded enough to create any sense of empathy in the reader. Her surprising and unexplained mood fluctuations make her an unreliable and often unbelievable narrator. Cassie’s mother is more credibly fleshed out, between her concern for Cassie’s future and her romantic interest in Mr. Middleman. Most of the peripheral characters tend to be either one-dimensional, like smiling Sorina; unbelievable, like Anton, another aerialist; or stereotypes, like Marsha, the rich-bitch. All of the characters have similar, stilted dialogue.
In terms of plotting, Cassie’s Choice is consistently implausible. For instance, when Cassie visits the circus as a regular patron, she asks a trapeze artist (Sorina, the circus owner’s daughter) if she may climb the aerialists’ tower. Despite never having previously met Cassie, the aerialist tells Cassie, “Okay, it’s against circus rules, but I’ll take you up for a minute or two. You must promise me you’ll do as I say and not tell anyone about this.” When Cassie disobeys orders and ends up screaming as she falls down to the safety net, there are next to no repercussions for either girl, despite everyone discovering what has happened. Towards the end of the novel, when aerialist Anton is suspected of greasing the high platform so that Cassie has a more serious fall, the police are called in. Cassie is told that, if the police find Anton, they intend to charge him with attempted murder, and possibly also with the murder of her father. Cassie, who ‘til then, had thought her father’s death an accident, reacts to the news by saying,
And just a minute after hearing the news, Cassie has the following telephone conversation with her mother:
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “It’s worth a fat lip and swollen eye to possibly convict my dad’s murderer.”
And that’s the last mention of Dad’s death in the novel.
“I’ve been worried to death about you since Julian [Middleman] told me about your fall,” [Cassie’s mom] said. “Are you in pain? Do you want me there? Are they taking good care of you?”
I paused for a moment pondering which question to answer first.
“Cassie, are you there?”
“I’m all right, Mom,” I replied.
“If you want me there, I’ll leave immediately,” she said.
“You don’t need to, Mom. I’m making a good recovery. But while we’re on the line, I want to ask you if it’d be okay if I invited Randy up for the weekend of Saturday, August 8th. That’s the weekend before I leave for trapeze school.”
She laughed. “Is that relationship back on?” she asked.
I smiled. “Well, it could be,” I said.
Mom laughed again and I was glad to hear it. Since Dad died, she hadn’t laughed too often. “That’s okay,” she said. “I plan to have my soccer team in that day for an afternoon buffet. I won’t see them very often from now on since I’m going to live near Julian in Naples. I’d love to see Randy at the party.”
Cassie’s Choice should have had a far more thorough edit. Unbelievable events, poor character development, and limited writing skills undermine the author’s professed message to readers that, with hard work, self-sacrifice, and will-power, one can achieve one’s goals.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer.
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