CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 1. . . .September 6, 2013
Crash. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2013.
130 pp., pbk., hc., pdf & epub., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0522-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0525-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0523-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0524-8 (epub).
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Todd Kyle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I couldn’t do it at first. Beg for money. I really couldn’t. I hung out behind a donut shop and waited to see what came out the back door, hoping there was food headed for a Dumpster or something. My instincts were good. Around noon, the unsold baking from the day before was tossed. I can’t tell you how good they tasted. Chocolate donuts. Blueberry muffins. Enough for me and Ozzie, and I stashed some in my pack. Not exactly health food, but it was a start.
Troubled 16-year-old Cameron, having just resolved to turn his life around, is faced with his parents splitting up and having to move in with his mother and her boyfriend, likely having to ditch his beloved dog Ozzie in the process. Unable to face that fate, he remains in his parents’ home, taking in Mackenzie, a homeless girl he meets in the park, until an eviction notice forces them to leave. Continuing to attend school, Cam learns how to beg and scrounge for shelter, and he convinces Mackenzie to enroll at his school. When she raises $200 to pay a fine to get Ozzie released from animal control, Cam realizes that the mysterious, troubled, and disappearance-prone Mackenzie is probably selling sex. When a particularly bad date results in Mac’s being injured, a kind stranger named Ruth Goldbloom offers to take them to the hospital, then takes them to the home of her friend Margaret, a retired social worker who takes in troubled youth. She convinces the overburdened Margaret to take them in, including the dog, and Cam vows to follow the rules to remain in his new home.
Part of Orca’s high-interest, lo-vocab “Soundings” series, this book faces the typical struggle to deal with gritty, complex, real-life issues in a short length and with short, simple sentences. In its writing style, it accomplishes exactly what it needs to do: present the story in Cam’s realistic voice. What emerges is a picture of a stubborn, self-aware, highly intelligent teen who has fallen on hard times. Particularly engrossing are his struggles to survive and his shame at having to panhandle. His growing attachment to Mackenzie comes across as natural, even innocent, despite the fast and sudden pace of their encounter.
Many details, however sparsely described, are vivid. His determination to get school work done despite his daily struggles, the occasional kindness he encounters while begging, and the school’s realization that he and Mac are troubled—they are quietly given free cafeteria vouchers—come across as touching and heroic efforts in a harsh world. A couple of details are a little out of focus—no reason is given for Cam’s visceral hatred of his mother’s “asshole” boyfriend Nick, and neither is any reason given that a schoolmate he meets on the streets knows who is talking about when he asks if anyone has seen Mackenzie (this is before she enrolls at his school). And is it with an American market in mind, or in trying to keep the vocab as “lo” as possible, that the spelling of “donuts” is used as in the above excerpt?
It is likely in keeping to the prescribed short length that the pair’s rescue by Ruth and Margaret comes across as sudden and slightly less than satisfying. Cam, in particular, seems to accept the rules of Margaret’s house a little too quickly, declaring “we’re home” quicker than you can say “deus ex machina”. Still, Ruth’s occasional appearance as a kind donor to their begging efforts provides some foreshadowing of her concern for the two. Overall, this short novel packs a lot of thought-provoking and character development in a small package, and the ending is far from a “happy” one, leaving the door open to much curiosity of what might happen next.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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