CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 30 . . . . April 5, 2013
Fifteen-year-old Kyle is a foster kid who, at the beginning of the novel, is being moved to yet another foster home, one of many since he was abandoned at the age of eight. He decides that the best way to cope with yet another upheaval is simply not to speak. If he doesn't say anything, he can't get into trouble, right? Scott and Jill live on a farm and are active with local environmental issues. Despite Kyle's unwillingness to speak, they help him adjust to his new life – letting him have his own space in the barn loft, giving him freedom to wander where he likes on the property, teaching him how to drive the tractor. Life seems idyllic until Kyle's father comes back into the picture and insists that he will now take custody of his son.
Andrews puts her focus on the main character, and readers will relate to Kyle and have empathy for his situation right from the opening pages. At first, he is an angry and resentful young man who "knows" this situation won't work and he will once again be shuffled to another foster family. He is reluctant to do anything which would indicate he could enjoy living with Scott and Jill and perhaps even put down roots. Slowly but surely, Kyle matures. The open spaces of the farm and the freedom given to him by his foster parents teach him responsibility and show a trust that he has never before encountered. A mistreated crow which has been rescued by the local Bird Rescue Centre comes to the farm, and, despite himself, Kyle desperately wants the crow to heal and once again learn to fly. Cooped up in his barn loft while tending to the crow, Kyle needs something to occupy his time and, much to his surprise, he finds he has a talent for painting, even if his only supplies are the barn walls and some old black paint left over from someone else's project.
There are few other characters in the book. Scott and Jill, first-time foster parents, seem to innately understand and appreciate Kyle and recognize what he needs. Wendy, the local CAS worker, is restricted by the rules of her job and so interacts with Kyle on a strictly professional basis. Perhaps most interesting are two 'characters' who exist only in Kyle's head for the majority of the novel. As Kyle thinks and plans, he hears his father's voice and disparaging words. To emphasize the father's role in Kyle's early life, all of these comments are in bold type, giving the impression that, whether he likes it or not, the abuse of his father will always take up room in Kyle's head and the voice will never truly let him grow up and find his own way. Along with this "devil" in Kyle's imagination, there is also a rational voice which Kyle names the Lord of Ingenuity. His calm and thoughtful comments are shown to the reader in italics, and he often takes the "angel" role for Kyle. Thus, the author cleverly lets readers see Kyle's thoughts. Not only are readers present for Kyle's day-to-day thoughts which keep the plot moving, but through the two voices in Kyle's mind, readers also gain an understanding and appreciation of the emotional turmoil which he endures.
This young adult novel shows Kyle maturing, but it is a lifelike and gradual process, with a few setbacks along the way and no unbelievable "lightning bolts" when Kyle gains some sort of sudden, mystic insight. Eventually, he knows and likes himself much better than he does at the outset of the novel, and yet he is by no means a "finished product". One senses that Kyle's decision at the end of the book will greatly affect the next years of his life, and readers will cheer him on and hope for the best for him. Andrews has created a character with whom young readers will have empathy, with whom they will laugh and cry, and someone they will not soon forget.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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