________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 22. . . .February 7, 2014


Jeremy Stone.

Lesley Choyce.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2013.
183 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-504-2.

Subject Headings:
Bullying-Juvenile fiction.
Racism-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4



The List

Alone at night in my room.
Now I had a list of things I had to do.
I don’t like lists.
But there it is.

Help my mom hold it together each and every day.
Stay in contact with my dad and reel him home somehow.
Make Thomas Heaney stop being a cruel asshole.
Help Jenson move on. Keep Caitlan alive.
Discover who I really am and why I am here.

All I could figure out was that the answer to the last item on my list
was attached to all the items above it.

My head was spinning but I
made myself go to sleep
by imagining that I was not
a real person at all
the song
in the throat
of a sparrow.


Jeremy has his head down, trying to survive high school, convince his father to come home again, and keep his mother sober, when he meets fascinating, enigmatic Caitlan who confides to him that her last boyfriend, Jenson, took his own life due to the bullying of Thomas Heaney. Jeremy has his own problems with Thomas especially after he pins Thomas to the mat in a wrestling class. And then Jeremy sees Jenson’s ghost who asks for help to get Caitlan back on a more even keel and move her away from suicidal thoughts. With the help of the spirits of both his long dead grandfather, Old Man, and Jimmy, an old childhood friend, Jeremy gradually comes to the conclusion that he is an Old Soul, dedicated to helping and healing people. Jeremy takes Jimmy’s advice to be kind to Thomas by allowing Thomas to copy his test answers, and, once they are caught, by implying that he copied from Thomas. He helps Jenson to appear to Caitlan and promises to be there for her as her friend while she lets go of the past. As Jeremy slowly works magic around himself, the reader gradually comes to realize that neither Jimmy nor Jenson ever existed in the real world. Jeremy’s imaginary friend Jimmy helped him through the death of his grandfather while the creation of Jenson helped Caitlan to deal with the pain of a previous breakup.

      Jeremy is a witty, self-deprecating teen who moves fluidly between the real world and the spirit world, one of those kind, thoughtful, persistent people who make a difference in the lives of others. He lets go of anger, retaliation and pain while he works with a pure heart to help Caitlan in spite of falling in love with her. He connects with the psychic and his mother to influence his father to return without losing face. And he still remains very much a typical high school boy, using the usual language of teenagers and susceptible to all the usual problems, drudgery and pain of going to school. In other words, he’s a hero worthy of the admiration of older teens who will easily connect with him, who will sympathize when the black dogs of depression creep up on him, and will understand completely Jeremy’s connection with his grandfather’s ghost.

     Although Old Man, Jeremy’s grandfather, represents the stereotype of the wise old Native man, he is also very amusing and sets a strong example for Jeremy to remain non-judgmental, sympathetic and hopeful. Jenson helps Jeremy to see that “love stays with you even when you move on” and “takes up a whole lot more of who you are than most people realize.” Jimmy reassures Jeremy that “There’s a lot of shades of gray about what’s right and what’s wrong” and that he will “be a great healer and a fine shaman.” At the same time, Jimmy commiserates with Jeremy that Thomas, if allowed to continue hurting people, will “do so much damage, like a snowball rolling downhill.” Caitlan’s pain is palpable, her desperation achingly familiar to those who have been jilted and hurt in love. Her cutting and her thoughts of suicide chill Jeremy to the core, but Caitlan eventually trusts him enough that she allows him to lead her to a safer space both mentally and physically. Jeremy’s mother’s flashes of humour and insight glimmer through her addictions. The patience and help of Fred, the school janitor, are charming and realistic as he provides space for Caitlan to recover. The bully Thomas Heaney is stunned by Jeremy’s generous help and acceptance; he and Jeremy don’t become friends, but they don’t antagonize each other anymore either.

     The setting is typical modern Canadian high school, as Jeremy takes French, where paper clips are flipped at enemies and notes are passed up the row to recipients. The bush is not far from town, and the local coffee shop is a meeting place. A cell phone message is at the core of Caitlan’s pain, and Jeremy’s father is always running out of minutes on his cell phone.

     Jeremy Stone is a novel told in verse. The poetry is spare and based around both the exchange of dialogue and the dialogue inside Jeremy’s head. Lines shift when the speaker or thinker changes, making it perfectly clear who is speaking. Although written in free verse, this book is totally accessible, even by struggling readers. “Chapters”, or pieces of poetry, are short and easily understood. The structure and the images are often amusing (when Old Man interrupts Jeremy’s words, “Maybe I love you”, by inserting, “wrong path don’t go there unless you mean it”) or when Old Man is shuffling around the coffee shop complaining about the air conditioning: “If the Great Spirit wanted us to be cool all the time, he would have given us free ice year round.”

     In an excellent, thought-provoking interview at the end of the book, Choyce recalls the dangers of assuming a first person aboriginal voice. He needn’t have worried. The theme of becoming a spiritual warrior in life, becoming strong and yet forgiving, persistent and hopeful, rings loud and clear. Nothing about Jeremy’s life is sugarcoated. It’s not an easy ride. But with the help of his grandfather’s belief system Jeremy slowly moves forward, lightening the load for himself and for everyone else.

     This wonderful book would be a good fit for any Aboriginal study unit and should be in every high school library.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg bookseller.

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

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