________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 8. . . .October 26, 2012


Way to Go.

Tom Ryan.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2012.
214 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-45980-077-9.

Grades 9-11 / Ages 14-16.

Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.

*** /4



Maybe Lisa had appeared out of nowhere for a reason. I was kind of like a frog in a fairytale who needed a kiss from a princess so he could turn into a prince. Only, instead of a frog, I was a might-be-gay kid who needed straightening out, and instead of a princess she was a cigarette-smoking tattooed city girl with a bag full of mix tapes. I figured that was close enough.


Seventeen-year-old Danny wants to figure out his life. His friends seem to have it together. Kierce has a rule for every occasion, from “ever, ever miss a chance to get laid” to “Girls love a tough guy.” Jay never seems to worry about anything, not failing school, not even his future. Danny has a father who keeps pushing him to go to university for a career he's not interested in, a sister with an obsession with classic movies, and a big secret, that he might be gay, which is a big deal in a small town. To top it off, Kierce’s constantly pushing Danny about his sex life and lack of dates has Danny scared that his secret will come out.

     After an early summer party, Danny is caught drinking by the local police and fined. His parents decide that Danny needs a summer job and find him one at the Sandbar, a new local restaurant. Lisa, a girl from New York, turns up to work as a server, and she and Danny hit it off. At the same time, Danny proves himself a terrible dishwasher and gets made the chef's assistant, a situation which furthers his interest in becoming a chef himself, something that his father will be opposed to. Danny needs to figure out himself and his future, preferably before the summer is over.

     Way to Go is primarily a story about identity and self-acceptance. Tom Ryan has written an interesting story with characters that readers will easily identify with. The use of first-person narration adds depth to the story by keeping the focus on Danny and his internal conflicts. The characters are wonderfully written and are brought to life more by their words and actions than simply by descriptions. Since the story is written in the first-person, the supporting characters are limited in their depth, and the reader will not learn much about most of them beyond the obvious. Readers learn that Kierce is extremely homophobic, but not why he is such an over-the-top person to begin with. The reader learns more about Danny's family members when it is convenient for the plot, such as during major argument between Danny and his father. However, this does not make the characters less interesting, and it retains the primary focus on Danny.

     While Way to Go deals with serious topics, such as sexual orientation, identity, self-acceptance, friendship and family, Tom Ryan keeps the story moving and does not let it get too heavy or depressing for the reader. Danny may not always win, but he is starting to figure out his life, and there is no forced happily ever after ending.

     Way to Go is set in the summer of 1994, a fact which is only mentioned once and is not overly relevant to the story. The mention of mix tapes may date the story a bit for readers who are more used to MP3s, but this is a minor issue, and the story and characters will keep most readers interested. Some more descriptions of Cape Breton where the story takes place would be nice for readers who are not familiar with the area.

     Way to Go is an excellent coming-of-age story that will appeal to a variety of readers.


Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

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

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