CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 7. . . .October 18, 2013
Grace and Kya have been friends ever since Grace moved to town and watched Kya jumping on the trampoline in her back yard next door. They have always agreed: Buds before Studs. Sisters before Misters. The girls go to the same school, have many of the same friends and enjoy playing paintball whenever they have the opportunity. They make a great paintball team since each knows the other will always have her back. With one more year of high school left, both girls are hoping to go on to college and play on the Grinders paintball team. Kya keeps the excitement going; Grace is the calm one who always seems to be in control. However, Kya’s ideas of excitement begin to push Grace beyond the limits of her patience, and Grace begins to wonder if she is willing to put many of her hopes and dreams aside just so the two can remain friends.
Janet Gurtler gives her readers a book which explores teen friendship with its touching and intimate moments as well as its misunderstandings and conflicts. At the beginning of the novel, readers learn that Kya has a secret which helps explain her often outrageous behaviour. Eventually, Gurtler explains that Kya was raped as a younger teen, and this knowledge helps readers understand why her best friend Grace is so often willing to forgive Kya’s insults and to help her try to undo whatever problems she has caused. Kya is self-centered and mean and throughout most of the story, quite unlikeable. Her attitude and her actions can be positively toxic. Yet once readers understand her background, they, like Grace, are perhaps more willing to forgive Kya and see her drinking, flirting and promiscuity as perhaps her shield against what has happened and an effort to regain some sort of misguided control over her life.
Grace lives up to her name, doing her best to help her friend and maintain the closeness they have always had. Grace is not naive nor is she a doormat. She seems truly able to forgive her friend’s sins and to remain empathetic and loyal throughout the novel. Gurtler gives readers characters who evolve and grow, however, and so Grace eventually has to face some tough questions. Is it really best to endeavour to save someone while, in the end, losing yourself? Can Grace allow Kya and her behaviour to get in the way of her own plans for the future? As tough as it might be on both of them, should Grace simply let Kya go?
Gurtler provides interesting secondary characters who help readers understand the personalities and reactions of Kya and Grace. Kya ‘s parents prefer to sweep problems under the proverbial rug; her father doesn’t even continue taking her to counselling sessions after the rape. Grace’s parents, while perhaps not typical, provide a strong and solid environment for their two children, even if that means having ice cream for breakfast with your monkey pancakes!
There are elements of romance in the novel as well seventeen-year-old Grace has never really had a boyfriend until Levi moves to town. Their romance is sweet and slow to develop and not a major theme of the novel; however, it helps readers get yet another view of Grace’s personality. James has been Grace’s good friend forever, and, although Grace doesn’t realize it, readers understand that he would like more than that from their relationship. Again, this isn’t a major thread in the novel, but once again readers are able to see the main character from a slightly different perspective.
How I Lost You must be one of the few young adult novels where the main characters are involved in the sport of paintball. The sporting scenes add a sense of camaraderie and excitement to the novel and show both Grace and Kya in a totally different setting. Both young women are very good at the sport and are able to gain respect in what is usually seen as a male-dominated world.
How I Lost You will have great appeal for its target audience of teenage girls and will give them a look at the ups and downs of friendship and an understanding that even the closest of friends sometimes remain important to us for only a time and then we must move on. As one character puts it, “Sometimes you have to let people go. Even if you love them.” (p. 295) Grace has learned an important life lesson in the pages of this novel, and Gurtler has taught her with patience, empathy and genuine love.
Ann Ketcheson, who lives in Ottawa, ON, is a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French.
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