CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 10. . . .November 8, 2013
I am not a skateboarding aficionado. I don’t understand the technical aspects involved in doing the tricks—other than what I glean from my understanding of physics—and cannot visualize most of the tricks from the descriptions given in either the first or the second book of Brad Cowan’s trilogy featuring five boys who make up “The Seven Stair Crew”. So, while the twists and turns of the sport, itself, might be what captures the attention of readers who are involved with skateboarding, it is not what captured mine. Fortunately, in Skinner’s Banks, Cowan has succeeded in developing several layers that deepen the plot and will engage and hold the interest of readers who might otherwise be less interested in a book that is ostensibly about a group of teenage boys who set out to make a video that will enlighten others about the intricacies and excitement of their chosen sport.
The most compelling of these subplots is the story of the main protagonist, Cale Finch, his background, and the ongoing struggle he has to come to terms with the ugly scenario of parents who have forgotten he is not the one who caused the rift between them, that good parents put aside their individual hatreds and selfish interests when it comes to providing for the needs of their offspring, and that Cale is not a possession who belongs to either of them or who can be picked up and played with like a basketball when the mood suits them and tossed aside when they’re tired of the game. Eventually, this push and pull brings Cale to a turning point where he must decide what path his own life will follow next. I think this storyline will resonate with any reader who has suffered from, or seen, the anguish and anxiety caused by warring parents.
While Cale deals with this most central of personal issues, he is faced with other challenges. He is the youngest member of a group of skaters who, when it comes to skateboarding, are self-motivated, thinking teens willing to try new things and who figure things out for themselves. That said, in many instances at least one of the Seven Stair crew is a disrespectful, badly behaved person, and, because of how the story unfolds, the author has intentionally, or unintentionally, reinforced a view many non-skaters hold that skateboarders, in general, are people who think nothing of riding roughshod over other people’s rights and property.
This negative view comes about because only one person in the book ever stands up against the illegalities, and even personal attacks, they witness or find out about, and, in the end, it is not that person’s actions which bring about change. There is an event that has tragic consequences for the group of older skaters Cale and his crew look up to. But when that event occurs, its cause is attributed to the actions of those involved in a different dangerous enterprise—street racing. Nowhere in the book do consequences result from the skaters’ own bad behaviour.
Other problems come in the form of ‘formulaic’ writing where stereotypical characters are introduced but have no real reason to be there, and clichés are used to fill in for humour.
Tweeze is a member of a rival skateboarding crew, and not a nice guy. Cast as Cale’s archetypal ‘enemy’, he commits theft and a personal assault on Cale. But after his initial appearance, he remains firmly in the background. His actions do not result in personal consequences for him or contribute to Cale’s growth on any scale because Cale never stands up to him. Angie is the recipient of Cale’s burgeoning interest in girls. Other than a convention that says a romantic element adds interest to a story, there is no real reason for it to be there at all. The relationship, itself, neither creates tension in the book, nor adds to the forward motion of the plot. Nor does it bring Angie forward as an interesting character in herself.
An example of a very old and tired cliché is the scene in Josh’s backyard when the boys are setting up camp in preparation to sneaking away in the middle of the night to film some essential footage for their video. These days, is farting really that funny for 13 and 14-year-olds who are camping out?
In spite of its formulas, Skinner’s Banks is generally well-written, with a likeable central character many will find themselves cheering for, a main theme those involved with skateboarding and film-making will find easy enough to follow, and subplots that sustain and deepen interest.
Jocelyn Reekie is a writer, editor and publisher in Campbell River, BC.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.