CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 22. . . .February 8, 2013
Damage. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2013.
133 pp., pbk., hc., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0360-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0366-3 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0361-9 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0362-6 (epub).
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Karen Boyd.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"I can't just take off on my parents," I said. Though really, I thought, why shouldn't I? They'd done nothing but nag me and accuse me of lying since we'd left home the day before.
"I didn't mean you should run away." She laughed. "Jeez, give me some credit."
"You mean, ask them?"
"Yeah, doofus," s she said. "Ask them. And hurry up." She nodded at Zach. "He's finally conked out, which means I can put him in his car seat without a total meltdown."
Ronnie obviously didn't remember my parents very well. There was no way in hell that they would agree. On the other hand, I couldn't imagine letting this opportunity slip away.
Seventeen-year-old Theo is on a road trip with his parents to visit his "perfect" older brother. Feeling smothered and distrusted by his parents is making for a fairly painful trip, and Theo is happy for the distraction of the beautiful girl at the hotel pool. His fantasies are quickly revised by two facts: the girl at the pool has a two-year-old son, and she is also Theo's babysitter from his childhood. Theo overcomes these two rather large barriers and ends up ditching his parents and heading to Hollywood with Ronnie. During his great adventure, Theo gets caught up in a custody battle, and, while he left hoping to escape his own problems, he ends up realizing that Ronnie has far greater issues to overcome. Theo needs to decide what is right for Ronnie, for little Zach, for Zach's father, and for himself.
Damage has a very quickly moving storyline. Theo goes from being on a road trip with his parents to being chased by the police in Ronnie's car within a matter of pages. As an accessible read for struggling readers, this quick moving action will keep readers engaged and swept along with the story. In some ways, this strength becomes a weakness as the story moves too quickly to resolution. Theo gets himself into such as mess but then seems to be able to extricate himself far too easily. There are also some missing pieces that leave the reader with questions. Theo's overreacting parents seem to behave out of character when they leave the hotel and continue with their travel plans in light of Theo's disappearance. It would seem far more likely that an Amber Alert would have been called. On that note, when the police do pull over the car for a burnt out light, Theo speculates as to why Ronnie is so concerned, rather than entertain the possibility that the police would be looking for him. When they do get to Hollywood, Ronnie's friend has surprising access to the details of Ronnie's life and even cell phone contact with the ex-boyfriend even though Ronnie left this high school friend before graduation and moved to another city. Ronnie's friend also contributes to Theo's growing disillusionment with his adventure when he realizes that her "contacts" are limited to the porn industry.
Even with the easy-to-read vocabulary and sentence structure, Stevenson has provided some insight into Theo's thinking. Stevenson effectively writes Theo's frustration with his parents. Their overprotectiveness and seeming distrust are explained as the family discusses Theo's best friend's drug issues. It is easy to see both his parents' point of view and also Theo's loyalty to his friend. This early demonstration of his loyalty helps to explain Theo's later decisions regarding Ronnie while his frustration helps to explain his first decision to ditch his parents. What is somewhat refreshing in this story is the fact that the main character is just a "regular" kid. He has a decent home life, seems to do well at school, and has good character. This event in his life seems to be a bit of a blip. Often the books that are marketed to reluctant readers have very issue bound main characters, and, while there is nothing wrong with that, Stevenson has just filled a gap with Theo.
Regretfully, Ronnie is a far less developed character. Her backstory that drives Theo's action is hinted at as being rich and complex. But as readers only understand the story with Theo's perspective, there is some frustration at not being able to explore Ronnie further. Readers are able to piece together that Ronnie comes from a troubled home, has issues with alcohol, has kidnapped her own son, and lacks responsibility. I would love to read another version of Damage told from Ronnie's point of view.
The quickly moving plot, the hint of mystery, and a likable character wrapped up in accessible text allow Damage to overcome some of its flaws. A good addition to the "Orca Soundings" collection.
Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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