CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 5. . . .September 30, 2011
Fallout. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
159 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc).
ISBN 978-1-55469-272-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55469-976-6 (hc.).
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Kris Rothstein.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"Put your hands together for Tara Manson!"
I step into the spotlight. The audience is out there, though I can't see them.
This moment is mine. I can say anything in my poems.
Have you ever faced fear
into churning water
So deep there is no bottom?
I have. At the waterslides.
There's always a chuckle after I say that line. Maybe I look too heavy to be a waterslide type. Whatever. It's my job to deliver the poem. The audience hears what they want to hear.
I change my voice so I sound like I'm in a commercial.
Your fun in the sun
place to plunge
in and away from
what really matters
Then I go back to my normal voice.
if the phone ringing
in your beach bag
needs to be answered.
Tara has escaped the pain of her sister's suicide by moving to Toronto and immersing herself in the city's slam poetry scene. She's supposed to be enjoying her first year of independence and freedom by attending university, but she can't forget about her sister Hannah, or her own guilt. Before Hannah stepped in front of a bus, she phoned her sister, but Tara was enjoying a day at the waterslides with her boyfriend and didn't pick up. Now she works at a bookstore and competes in coffee shops around town with the support of friends she meets in a writer's group. By sharing her story on stage through poetry performance, she is eventually able to stop blaming herself and to forgive her family and her sister.
Nikki Tate makes this book entertaining and accessible for its intended reader. It's short and punchy and has a compelling protagonist. Tara is easy to relate to and sympathize with, and she is written in a believable way. It is likely a consequence of aiming the story at reluctant readers that the novel is, at times, simplistic. The scope of the story is fairly limited, and some elements of character, plot and motivation are less nuanced than they might have been if this was not for reluctant readers. However, Fallout has something of value to offer to most teen readers.
Tate does an admirable job of dealing with the topic of childhood suicide and its devastating effects on family members. It is refreshing that this is not at all a story about a depressed teenager, but the story of a survivor. It deals very well with the subject of guilt and also with the emotional turmoil which suicide creates. Hannah has, in fact, left Tara a note in which she explains that she has planned her suicide so that it will interrupt the family's life as little as possible. The book shows how mistaken she is. Tara's healing journey begins when she meets Rosie, another girl whose life has been rocked by suicide. By inspiring Rosie to talk and write about her own loss, Tara knows she has taken the first step to recovery.
The subculture of slam poetry is rarely represented in fiction, and Fallout fills the void well. This setting also allows for the use of both prose and poetry to explore the subject and characters. Tate is very successful in illustrating the backstory of the two sisters and Tara's current state of mind by using a great deal of poetry throughout the novel. This poetry is generally good (and credible as a teen girl's writing), although, at time, it reads as a little cheesy. This is almost unavoidable, as slam poetry is a genre meant to be heard and to be seen, not read on a page. There is a lot of repetition of the same emotions and same events in the poetry, and, while this effectively mines Tara's state of mind, it is perhaps a little overdone. While this book is all about emotion, and rightly so, there was an opportunity to describe the poetry scene a little more vividly. It any case, both the poetry and the poetry scene provide a lively and effective story which readers will enjoy.
Kris Rothstein is a children's book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.
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