________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 36 . . . . May 18, 2012


Crush. Candy. Corpse.

Sylvia McNicoll.
Toronto, ON: Lorimer, 2012.
217 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-4594-0062-7.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***½ /4



“Who’s that?” Cole wondered out loud.

“Let’s check.” We walked quickly, bypassing all the stone-faced wheelchair gnomes lining the walls. Past Susan rocking her baby, past Fred and Marlene shopping for bread or auto parts. A wide band of yellow tape stretched across the door from frame to frame, blocking off Johann Schwartz’s room as though it were a crime scene or something.

“He’s by himself for his own protection,” Sheila, the cafeteria goth, told us as she pushed a cart with trays of covered dishes through the hall.

“What do you mean? I’m supposed to feed him. He can’t do it by himself.”

“He’s been yelling too much. He upset the others. He can’t eat in the dining room.”

“I can still feed him though. I’ll do it in his room if he bothers the others.”

Sheila shook her head. “It’s absolutely against the rules. We can’t be responsible for you all alone with him.”

Blah, blah, blah. I could hear her talking, but Johann’s crying blocked me from really processing it. I stared at the yellow tape.

“It’s meant to keep the others from going in there,” Sheila explained. “For his own safety. The tape is enough to stop the others.”

“But not me.” I couldn’t help myself. I yanked the yellow barrier down and walked into the room.

Sixteen-year-old Sunny works in a personal care home, Paradise Manor, to fulfill her 40 hours of community service required for high school graduation. Initially reluctant, Sunny soon comes to care deeply for the seniors struck with Alzheimer’s whom she feeds and distracts. She gradually becomes disenchanted with her shoplifting yummy boyfriend Donovan as she draws closer to Cole, a kind, considerate boy who comes to Paradise Manor to help care for his grandmother. Then Cole suffers a serious bicycle accident, and his grandmother chokes on hard candies after she hears about it, dying just after Sunny leaves her. Sunny is charged in her death but is declared not guilty at trial.

     Sunny is a strong, realistic, witty character with whom the intended audience will readily identify. She loves her family deeply, especially her mother who is struggling with cancer. She works with her parents and older brother to manage large condominiums, but she is able to carry on a social life of sorts with best friend Alexis and the handsome Donovan. Determined to do better scholastically so that her parents won’t worry about her, Sunny faithfully keeps up with her journal entries about her work with the seniors. She discourages Donovan’s shoplifting but plans on attending his prom with him. Gradually she begins to admire Cole’s persistent help for his grandmother and his cheerful kindness while at the same time becoming more aware of Donovan’s selfishness. But the most important change Sunny works through is her realization of how much she enjoys working for the seniors and how good she is at it. She becomes their passionate advocate, even attending two memorial services, and learning to forgive hurtful remarks made by seniors suffering from dementia. Sunny’s German background is a source of strength as she sings lullabies and addresses German patients in their own language.

      Donovan is the stereotypical hunk, powerful, lazy and self-centred (although he can cook and dance well), who is used mainly as a foil for Cole, whose fierce determination to support his grandmother shines forth. Cole persistently woos Sunny even in the face of Donovan’s bullying. He helps Sunny to learn how to treat the patients, casually imparting information about Alzheimer’s to her. Sunny’s parents are loyal to her, trusting and supportive in spite of dealing with her mother’s health. Alexis is the true pal, Sunny’s friend-since-kindergarten. Mrs. Johnston, the manager of Paradise Manor, is under huge amounts of stress and takes it out on Sunny who can do nothing to please her. Gillian, the organizer of the volunteers, is a more cheerful, sweet person who helps all the volunteers to do their best.

      The portrayal of Alzheimer’s patients is extraordinarily well done, from the couple who are searching for bread and auto parts, to the woman whose mood switches in the blink of an eye from polite, friendly comments to vicious threats. No punches are pulled here as Sunny feeds her bibbed clients liquefied food and copes with their unresponsiveness. The compassion of Sunny, Cole and Gillian will linger long in the minds of the intended reader. Cole’s grandmother’s desire to die and his promise to her to help her do so will also strike a chord and raise thoughtful questions for students.

      The story is set in a Canadian courtroom as Sunny’s lawyer and the crown counsel interrogate witnesses and try to prove her guilt or innocence. As she listens, Sunny’s mind drifts back over the time frame involved and the story evolves. Each witness called also enriches the story by providing their own point of view, revealing character and creating doubt in the mind of the reader.

      The dialogue is witty and engaging, reflective of today’s world, moving the plot along smartly and revealing character intuitively.

      The setting could be any large Canadian city as Sunny buses to Paradise Manor and Cole bikes in spite of the icy roads.

      The themes of compassion for the elderly, euthanasia and falling in love will resonate with the intended audience.

      The title unfortunately suggests the novel might be a thriller or a mystery when it is neither.

      This dramatic novel will appeal to both boys and girls.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

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

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