CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 21 . . . . June 20, 2003
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.).
9-12 / Ages 14-17.
by Joan Marshall.
With all sincerity,
I gaze in his eyes. “I’m not rude. I accept invitations.”
He explodes. “I’ll
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.
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 smile. And he storms off.
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.
how much better I feel.
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.
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.
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.
Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg,
on this title or this review, send mail to email@example.com.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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