CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 15 . . . . March 30, 2001
The problem with summers, Tracy thought, was that there wasn't any school. Not that she wanted classes and homework or anything like that. It was just that once school was over, the kids all disappeared. She missed her friends.In this new collection of stories, Valgardson provides readers with a realistic peek into the lives of modern youth. This honest and unromanticized glimpse offers a look at issues ranging from parental divorce (as the title story suggests) to obsession with virtual reality, one teen's experience of a nervous breakdown, and another's frightening encounter with peer pressure. Some of these issues are very current while others aren't necessarily so new, but Valgardson's treatment of them is compelling and thought-provoking.
While I enjoyed each of the seven stories in this collection, my favourite was perhaps the opening story. In "The Entertainer and the Entrepreneur," a motivated and money-driven teen devises her own employment opportunity in an effort to prove that she can earn more cash over the summer holidays than her lackadaisical schoolmate. They both thrust themselves energetically into their respective enterprises until, in a fairytale-type climax, her nemesis bravely leaps into the water to her rescue in a moment of peril. The outcome is satisfying, though perhaps predictable, and I think that many readers will identify with Tracy's competitive spirit and her "thou-dost-protest-too-much" attitude towards her antagonist.
"Bush Boy" is another story that will also likely strike a chord with adolescents. Jamie, in need of earning extra cash, reluctantly allows himself to be talked into joining a one-time friend in a money-making venture that he feels certain will lead to trouble. When he discovers that the scheme he's walked into involves picking marijuana plants, and he narrowly escapes the clutches of the angry, machete-wielding plant grower, he re-evaluates his financial need as well as his need to prove himself to this "friend."
These and the other stories in this book provide food for thought without being too subtle or didactic. Complex issues are raised without nice, neat resolutions. The author is very respectful of both his readers and his characters in that he does not patronize either and he gives them credit for being able to handle difficult situations. The characters, while fairly average teens, prove themselves to be strong, independent and resourceful young people. I thought that it was also noteworthy that nearly all of the adults in his stories were struggling or imperfect in various ways. They do not hold all of the answers despite their best intentions.
My only complaint with the book was with the arrangement of the stories. I noticed that the first two stories dealt with teens who were so different from their parents that their parents wondered where they came from. In two later stories, the families in each found themselves forced to relocate to remote communities, and, in both cases, the adults were having greater difficulty coping. While I loved the stories themselves, I would have preferred seeing the sequence juggled a bit. Also, I would have chosen a different title for the book. I think that some people mistakenly pass over the book, thinking that it is a resource book for children coping with divorce-related issues.
Nevertheless, The Divorced Kids Club is an engaging read that now ranks as one of my favourite books of short stories.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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