CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2000
I guess that's the way it works. People drift in and out of your life with varying degrees of consequence - one person changes your life for a week, another forever. But everyone's got their own lives going on, and unless we're awfully lucky, all we really see of one another's lives is a quick snapshot in time. It's funny - as if we each have cameo roles in the lives of everybody we meet. I guess it's up to us whether we want to be heroes or villains.Seventeen-year-old Jareth Gardner is a young man in trouble - more trouble, in fact, than most people experience during a lifetime. He has an alcoholic mother and a chronically-ill younger stepbrother. He is a nobody among his peers, and he is on the verge of being expelled from school for skipping classes and for pulling a knife on a classmate.
As the story opens, Jareth and his friend, Matthew, both break-and-enter veterans of several years, are exiting a burglary where the elderly homeowner has dropped dead of heart failure after discovering their presence. The boys are not caught, but the incident rattles them enough to deter them from further robberies for a while. A few weeks later, Jareth comes home from school to discover his brother, Brad, badly beaten. When Brad dies from his injuries a few days later, Jareth's mother is arrested for murder, and, unable to cope with his feelings, Jareth makes a halfhearted attempt to kill himself.
Matthew's stepfather, Vic, inadvertently comes to the rescue. Besides taking Jareth to the hospital for repair, he finds a safe place for him to stay. Enter Stewart, an old friend of Vic's and the owner of a big, old house in downtown Toronto, who opens his door to Jareth - no questions asked, allowing Jareth to begin his search for a new identity. During his stay with Stewart, Jareth rediscovers a love for art and gets a job, and, even though he breaks into another house, he soon regrets his actions and finds a way to atone for them.
A twenty-two year old Jareth narrates the story, relating events with an objectivity that would not have been possible if he'd told the story at seventeen. The novel is divided into three parts: Corruption, Redemption, and Hope, to represent the stages in Jareth's Change. The last part is actually a short epilogue which pulls together some of the loose ends. Well-written dialogue keeps the story moving at a good pace.
Though Jareth's tale is fraught with life's uglier aspects, it is told in such a way that it rings true. The characters are credible, and so are the things they do. Wennick has portrayed people without their makeup - as they truly are - not all good, but not all bad either. Many of Jareth's actions are socially unacceptable; yet the reader isn't prepared to write him off as a punk - even though that is how he initially perceives himself.
This is not a Cinderella story. There isn't a happily ever after ending - just a better than it was, and the knowledge that, though circumstances and people will always affect his life, it is Jareth who must ultimately decide who he is going to be.
Today's young adult readers are critical, but Changing Jareth is sure to garner their acceptance and approval.
Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.
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