CM . . . . Volume XX Number 8 . . . . October 25, 2013
Teenaged Andy Towell goes to work on a fishing tug, hoping to make fishing his career instead of going to university like his doctor father wants. In between navigating his rocky relationship with his father and learning the ropes of the fishing industry, Andy learns of the mysterious disappearance of fish-plant employee Malcolm "Cruddy" Sewell. As Cruddy's body is discovered in the lake, Andy makes the connection between his murder and a drug-smuggling operation aboard Captain Tanner's boat Bonnie Belle. After witnessing Tanner's crew's activities, Andy is knocked unconscious and stuffed into a van while his sometimes-girlfriend Lacey calls 911 and gives pursuit. A Coast Guard helicopter intercepts the van as Andy is being transferred to the Bonnie Belle, Andy is saved and the crew arrested. After his brush with death, Andy and his father reconcile, and Lacey suggests he get an education part-time while fishing.
A hi-interest, lo-vocab novel set in Lake Erie's fishing industry, So Much Potential certainly has some potential. Andy faces typical choices-between education and an immediate career, between pleasing or defying his parents. As narrator, his voice is fairly strong and credible, using the restricted structure of hi-lo to good effect, with short, punchy sentences that mostly mirror a teen's cadence and sensibility. Mostly, because there are two pieces of dialogue that sound very out of place for a teenager in 2013: Andy tells his father he wants to be a fisherman so he can have more leisure time to "take my kids (fictional at this point) to the park in the afternoon"; Lacey's ex-boyfriend Dexter, in an angry confrontation with Andy, spits out "Why you..." as if he couldn't think of an appropriate epithet.
Unfortunately, the drug/fishing mystery that is at the heart of the plot doesn't hold much water. The tenuous connections between clues are made worse by Andy's absence from most of the action, right up to the van-helicopter chase that he recounts as he is recovering in hospital. There is very little in the way of true intrigue or build-up to the unravelling of the crime, so much so that when he says, recalling how many coincidences contributed to the murder and its mystery,
...the reader needs to backtrack several chapters to realize that he means that biking to the harbor one day, he narrowly missed seeing Cruddy being kidnapped. Like many clues in the story, they are fairly well explained, but never actually fully exploited. The adventure seems, for want of a better term, somewhat "phoned-in", seen from a distance like in a police brief. Not to mention that two grisly murder attempts just to cover up witnessing unidentified packages being handed off, with no other attempt to shut up the two young men, seems a bit far-fetched, as does Andy's kidnapping in front of a busy fitness centre. The reason Lacey knows of Andy's kidnapping is because it is witnessed by Dexter and a friend after they pick a fight with Andy in the gym; coincidentally Lacey arrives seconds later, and they jump into her car to give chase. But this is another loose end-no mention is made of a reconciliation or even apology from the two bullies, who become frantic when they see Andy being stuffed into a van.
Thrown together with a cover that, despite an attractive design, doesn't really look like a teen novel, the end result is a book with potential, but limited appeal to its core audience.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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