________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 21 . . . . June 20, 2003



Dennis Foon.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2003.
171 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.) $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88899-549-0 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-536-9 (cl.).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4


“You touched her.”

With all sincerity, I gaze in his eyes. “I’m not rude. I accept invitations.”

He explodes. “I’ll kill you!”

I let him go. It’s wrong, twisting him like this. But it has an uplifting effect on my mood. Even better than smashing a nose into the boards. His pain is healing me, making me feel strong again. I look at him.

“Self-talk, breath exercises, where does it get you? Sorry, Tomster, you just failed the exam. Better luck next year, Sergeant.”

Tommy looks at me, his eyes oozing clear liquid. “I thought you were my friend.”

“I am,” I smile. And he storms off.

He’ll settle down soon. He gets wounded too easily. I admit I savored it, but is it my fault he puts himself above me? So what if I filled his head up with lies. He should know better than to be sucked in. If he can’t withstand some bullshit about his ex-girlfriend, how is he going to fly a war plane? If anything, I did him, and our country’s military, a favor.

It’s amazing how much better I feel.

Do you believe that men, particularly young men, have trouble dealing with their emotions, that the only emotion our society allows men to express legitimately is anger? Although partly a stereotype, this belief is true enough that Skud, set in present day Vancouver, is completely, shockingly believable. Four very different boys’ lives come crashing together because fundamentally none of them can deal with the tragic losses that life deals to all of us. Shane, the hard core gang member, loses his beloved brother. Tommy’s father is absent, and his grandmother looks after him because his mother has beaten him. Andy’s father has just died of throat cancer in less than an month. Brad’s mother is obsessed with beauty, and his father verbally and physically abuses him. All the boys have life goals that depend on control and power and will produce the security of large sums of money. Brad, aiming for the NHL, is the hockey team’s enforcer. Andy, hoping to be a movie star, perfects his acting techniques. Tommy dreams of joining the air force to fly fighter jets. Shane has achieved notoriety and more money than any high school boy should ever have by intimidating others. But it’s Tommy’s inability to deal with his girlfriend Sheila’s rejection that ignites the spark that brings the four boys together. Tommy sees Sheila and Andy kissing in a drama practice and blames Andy for Sheila’s dumping of him when really she’s tired of Tommy’s inability to talk and communicate. Tommy and his back-up friend, Brad, beat Andy up publicly to send a message. Looking pretty dreadful, Andy auditions for the part of a punk so he turns to Shane for help in learning the role. And then Brad’s life falls apart as he is demoted to fourth string while a girl named Charlene takes his first string position because finesse, not enforcing, is suddenly valued in hockey. To make himself feel better, he plants explosives in Charlene’s hockey locker and burns down the hockey rink. Now he can safely quit hockey. But Brad’s anger is really only appeased when he tortures Tommy by implying that he has slept with Sheila. Unfortunately, Tommy loses it completely and in a zombie-like trance confronts Sheila and rapes her. Andy’s success is sour as he loses his friend, Shane, when Shane is tracked down by his former gang members. In the end, life goes on. Shane dies from a gunshot wound, Andy gets the part, Tommy’s in jail, Brad dreams of the military, and Sheila and Andy have an honest talk in which they both realize that they will never be the same. The theme of the connection between loss, anger and violence dominates this novel. The anger of these young men can only be named aloud when they inflict pain on others. It wouldn’t be manly to admit your own inner pain, and all the boys discipline themselves to squash that pain into oblivion whenever it rises in their lives. They invest in the control and power of hitting in hockey, Tantric yoga, cadets and gang lawlessness. The adults in their lives are either idealized or despised. None is able to come to the rescue and be of any help whatsoever. Miss Post, Shane’s former English teacher who is pushed down the school stairway as a warning to Shane, can’t save him from death. Andy and Brad’s mothers know but don’t act. Tommy’s grandmother feeds him donuts to make him feel better - food solves all. The science teacher ignores Brad’s use of steroids. All the teachers are frightened by Shane’s gang. Brad’s coach and his father use him instead of connecting with him. The boys have no real connections with women. They control them through intimidation, ignore them or rape them. Only Shane, supposedly the worst of the bunch, has an honest relationship with a woman, Miss Post, whom he visits and feeds by hand in the hospital.

     Skud is told in alternating segments from each of the boys’ points of view. Each section begins with the name of the boy who relates it. Working in the first person, present tense, creates an urgent, pressing tone. Telling it from many points of view allows each of the boys to show his true feelings even when they're unsure themselves what these feelings are. Skud is full of sharp, in-your-face dialogue and thinking that reflects the fences boys erect around their feelings. Brad thinks he cannot “compute” what Tommy is telling him and asks why Tommy “clung to that skrunky piece till she gave you the heave.” This book has some realistic language in it. But if you know teenage boys, you know that the swearing in this book is minimal and is used to show character and how characters are shocked and surprised. In other words, like real life (enough that it will sound authentic to the teenage audience but not so much that it will stun the adults who will be buying this book.) It is interesting that American spelling is used and that “huh” is substituted for the Canadian “eh.” No doubt the publisher is hoping to sell many books in the United States. The book is also full of current day slang, used on the Canadian west coast where the author lives, one would presume, as teenagers in Winnipeg didn’t recognize it. Although the meaning of the slang is clear from the context, it may date the book in the years to come.

     The font is clear and fairly large, with the title printed on an angle at the bottom right hand corner of each page. The cover is an amazing work of semi abstract, modern art, accurately portraying four older teenage boys’ anger, isolation and watchfulness. Foon dedicates the book to his daughters. All girls should read Skud for a clearer understanding of why young men act the way they do. Adults who read Skud will immediately be thinking of intervention ! How can we prevent violence like this? Perhaps that answer lies in being more present to the reality of boys’ loss and anger, more ready to listen and to plant seeds of love and attention.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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