CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 18 . . . . May 12, 2000
"Something hit him - hard. The buildings seemed to spin around, the snow-covered concrete rushed at him. Only reflex made him bring up his hands in time to brace himself, stopping his face from slamming against the cold pavement. Slowly, he forced himself up on his knees.As the novel opens, 14-year-old Meghan Perry has discarded home and family in favor of life on the streets, and her 17-year-old brother, Kyle, is trying to find her. As a result of their parents' failed marriage, the two have been uprooted from the well-to-do community of Thornhill in Toronto to a seedy apartment in Calgary, where they are having to adjust to new schools, friends, diminished lifestyle, a changed home life, and other identity issues. Their mother, caught up in her own adjustments, provides little comfort or guidance. Left to her own devices, Meghan chooses the street.
Though Kyle does eventually find his sister - actually, it is Meghan who finds Kyle - it is the search, itself, that is the focus of the story, a search which immerses Kyle into a world that causes him to question his own identity and values. The story is told primarily from Kyle's perspective, though some chapters are told by Meghan, using the device of her diary.
Through this diary, Kyle locates Janice, a goth-girl who wields a degree of power in teen street-culture. It is Meghan's fascination with Janice that initially draws her to the street, though it is her involvement with dangerous underworld characters that traps her there. Janice hides Meghan, advises her, and tries to arrange her escape to Vancouver. And when Kyle shows up, it is Janice who acts as his tutor and protector while he carries out his search. Ironically, it is Janice who comes to harm - as a direct result of Meghan's treachery and Kyle's bumbling.
McPhee has set out to write a book that will 'grab' teen readers. To that end, he is probably successful. The world of teen runaways that he has painted jumps to life. Dirt, crime, poverty, abuse, drugs, prostitution, violence - they're all there - without being unbearably graphic. The dialogue rings true. The plot moves along quickly. This is an easy book to read.
Unfortunately, the novel provides almost nothing positive, and to portray only the negative makes it no more realistic than the Brady Bunch. Janice is killed in a gang war, while Stash, the abused child she has been caring for, watches - becoming more traumatized than ever. Kyle finds Meghan, but she doesn't return home. Mr. and Mrs. Perry, who are too involved in their own dysfunctional lives to be much affected by their daughter's disappearance, carry on with their insidious war. And Kyle, on his eighteenth birthday, denounces his friends and football teammates for Vancouver and the continuation of his search for a sister who doesn't want to be found. At the beginning of the novel, Kyle was goal-oriented and relatively well-adjusted. At the end, he says, "For the first time I really don't care what I do." Having seen the 'rush' he experienced while accompanying Janice's goth-family on a mugging, the reader can't help but wonder if Kyle won't get sucked into street life too.
Recommended with Reservations.
Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.
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