CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 18. . . .January 11, 2013
Something Noble. (Rapid Reads).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2012.
116 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Darleen Golke.
I promised myself a long time ago I wouldn't shed any more tears in front of my children. But when I see his face, looking scared and exhausted, it's all I can do to keep it together.
"Hey bunny boy," I say. That was my nickname for him when he was a baby. Normally he would yell at me for using it. How I wish he was healthy enough to be embarrassed.
"Mama," he says.
"Listen, you hang in there," I say. "We're gonna get you fixed up."
Dre doesn't answer. But I gotta keep talking. This is one of those times when silence is not golden.
"You remember back in the old days, when it was just you and me against the world? We made it through some rough times, kiddo. But we kept each other going. I was there for you, and you were there for me. You're my whole life, Dre. So just remember that. A little old kidney ain't nothing."
"I don't wanna die," Dre whispers.
"You're not gonna die. You're gonna live. Hear me? Don't let me hear that word again."
"Okay." Dre whispers.
Single-mother Linda Gonzales believes "being a mom is not just a job. It's an identity." Her 16-year-old son, Dre, born when she was only 16, now faces a critical medical situation. "Both his kidneys are malfunctioning," according to the nephrologist, and Dre "is going to need a transplant as soon as possible." A kidney donation from a compatible donor, one with Dre's rare AB negative blood type preferably a relative, would be the best alternative. Linda reluctantly visits Dre's father, Terrell, in prison where he has spent much of his life and explains the need for a donation. Surprisingly, Terrell agrees to be tested for compatibility because "you score a lot of points with the parole board" for "something like this." He "can have both my kidneys and my liver too. Just as long as it gets [me] outta here."
Unfortunately Terrell's dangerous lifestyle has included intravenous drug use which disqualifies him as a donor, but he has another son, LeVon, whose blood type also matches that of Dre. Desperate, Linda searches for LeVon's mother, Angelique Johnson, locates her, and visits her to learn LeVon's location. The 19-year-old "hangs" down in the Projects, "one of the most notorious places in the city" complete with "shootings, stabbings, drug deals." Nevertheless, Linda goes to the projects, locates LeVon with his gangbanger buddies, watches drug deals being enacted, and realizes LeVon is the young man who mugged her the year earlier in front of her own house. She approaches him and asks whether he'd like to meet his brother, Dre, and enjoy a home-cooked meal sometime. Astonished, LeVon, laughs her off, but one day when returning with Dre from dialysis, Linda spots LeVon on the street, pulls over, introduces the boys, and invites LeVon to dinner, much to Dre's dismay. The appearance of a cop car encourages LeVon to decide to come for dinner where things seem to be going well until six-year-old Marco, Linda's second son, thanks LeVon for giving "Dre a new kidney." "LeVon ain't giving away no kidneys," he insists and storms out. Three months later when LeVon calls from "the joint" and asks to see Linda, she willingly visits him and learns Terrell has been stabbed by a fellow inmate, and LeVon, having had ample time to think about his own choices, has decided he wants to put "things right" in his life and do "something noble" like donating a kidney to Dre. Like his father, LeVon hopes his generous act will help him with the parole judge to get him "outta here early."
LeVon passes the medical tests for a kidney donation "with flying colors" and, with Linda's assistance, secures his release from prison. The surgeon assures both young men they "have long lives ahead." The surgery goes well, and Dre recovers nicely; however, LeVon contracts a superbug that resists the strongest antibiotics, and he dies with Linda at his side, holding his hand. A year later, despite some setbacks in the recovery process, Dre returns to high school determined to complete his studies and become a doctor. LeVon's picture has become an icon in the Gonzales' home, his contribution a gift none of them will forget. Dre "is impatient to begin the rest of his life, to "do something noble with it," and "knows he has to live two lives now – his and LeVon's," Linda concludes.
Set in a large metropolitan area, the novel touches on a variety of social issues, among them single-parenthood, teenage pregnancy, poverty, economic inequities, drug dealing, crime, inter-racial relations, motherhood, life-threatening illness, and the complexities of families. Paced to attract the attention of young adult and adult readers, the story deals with intensely emotional issues of life and death, includes only a few characters that are adequately drawn, is short and action-centered, and like other novels in the "Rapid Reads" series, is written between a 2.0 and 4.5 reading level. The "contemporary and entertaining" plot uses adult language and deals with current themes, although the "good-son-survives" conclusion might be a little too tidy.
Kowalski, 2001 South African Ama-Boeke Prize award winner for Eddie's Bastard, has written two other novels in the "Rapid Reads" series, Barrio Kings (Vol. XVI, No. 41, June 25, 2010 ) and The Way it Works, (Vol. XVII, No. 2, Sept. 10, 2010) and his work teaching communication skills to adult learners at Nova Scotia Community College obviously aids in the dynamics of capturing and holding readers' attention.
Darleen Golke, a former secondary school teacher-librarian, writes from Abbotsford, BC.
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