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


Escape Velocity.

Robin Stevenson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
232 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-866-0.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Amy Dawley.

***½ /4



Just as tidy, just as organized. I flip through, trying to be quick because she could be home any minute, but not wanting to miss anything. Clippings, Documents, Letters… I stop, about to pull out the Letters file, but then I notice the next file: Lou. The skin on the back of my neck prickles, and I shiver. I raise my hand to lift out the file, and just as my fingers touch it, I hear my mother’s key in the lock.

I slam the drawer shut, twist the key out, and drop it back in her desk mere seconds before she step into the apartment.

She sees me standing at her desk and frowns. “What are you up to?” “Looking for a pen,” I say, picking one up and closing the drawer. I hope the key is in the right spot and that she won’t notice anything has been disturbed. “I was doing some homework and mine ran out.”

She relaxes. “Homework already?”

“I know. I can’t believe it either. Pages and pages of stuff to read, a paper to write…” Relief is making me babble.

“Well.” She looks at me.

I stop babbling, and there is a long awkward silence, I can practically hear my heard beating and the image of that pale blue folder with my name on it lingers so vividly in my mind that I’m almost surprised she can’t see it too.

Fifteen-year-old Lou is stuck in dry and dusty Drumheller, AB. Her injured father is a borderline serious prescription pain killer addict, and Lou is left to be the adult, paying the bills, buying the groceries, and basically taking care of herself. Life in Drumheller holds no joy for Lou, and other than her part-time job at a local dinosaur tourist attraction, Lou’s life is dominated by the monotony of school, work, and home, with no social life or friends to speak of. But when she returns home one night to find her father collapsed and unable to breathe, Lou’s life unravels. Her father is admitted into the hospital after he suffered a heart attack. When health complications begin to stack up, Lou’s father is transferred to a larger hospital in Calgary, and suddenly Lou is left without an adult in her life to “care” for her. Determined to make it on her own, Lou’s plan is thwarted by social workers who arrange for Lou to move to Victoria, BC, where her estranged mother Zoe resides.

     Upset and feeling like she’s lost control of everything, Lou reluctantly and nervously agrees to move to Victoria to live with her mother. Zoe abandoned Lou and her father just after Lou was born to pursue an education and career in writing. Zoe, who is now a celebrated author, has had very little contact with her daughter since they first met each other only a few years ago. Their relationship is rocky at best, and Zoe never tried or wanted to be a mother to Lou. Never having had the opportunity to really talk to her mother during her short visits, Lou has always wondered why she was abandoned and what about her was so unlovable? Starting with her mother’s latest semi-autobiographical novel, Escape Velocity, Lou pours over the pages looking for clues. Hurt by Zoe’s portrayal of her, Lou is torn between wanting to ask why and wanting to leave her mother for good. But Lou is determined to unravel the mystery of her past and begins to piece together clues while also juggling a hesitant and suspicious relationship with Zoe.

      Author Robin Stevenson has written a heartfelt and poignant story about the lasting pain and confusion felt by children who are abandoned by their parents. Escape Velocity weaves together elements of the characters’ pasts and shows how events that happened long ago can impact people’s everyday lives in the present. This contemporary story juxtaposes the highs of Zoe’s sophisticated metropolitan lifestyle with the lows of uncertainty and homelessness, all occurring within the same city. The story demonstrates that what’s on the surface isn’t everything—that even people who seem successful and happy can have a turbulent and painful past.

      Readers will identify with the strong and determined yet vulnerable character of Lou, who yearns for a happy and “normal” family life that she will never have. Lou has trouble making friends, and the delicate relationship that develops between her and another outcast, Justine, is very real and believable. While the story deals with material that many youth have as realities in their lives—foster care, drug addiction, homelessness, poverty—Stevenson handles these topics with care and dignity. Teachers and school librarians should be aware that there are a few instances where characters swear, but it is realistic in context of the situation. Give this book to teen readers who gravitate toward real life stories, especially those who like reading about complicated family dynamics with a hint of mystery.

Highly Recommended.

Amy Dawley is the teen librarian at the Prince George Public Library in Prince George, BC.

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

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