CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 4. . . . October 18, 2002
Goobie's reputation for writing hard-hitting, but highly engaging YA fiction is reaffirmed by The Lottery, the contents of which will undoubtedly be favorably compared to Robert Cormierís The Chocolate War. Actually, Goobie acknowledges Cormier in her dedication, thanking him both for his groundbreaking book and "the possibilities he brought to young adult literature." A further connection between The Lottery and Cormier's The Chocolate War occurs when Goobie portrays Chris Busatto, one of her troubled minor characters, reading Cormierís work. Like Cormierís Jerry Renault, Chris responds affirmatively to Jerry's poster question, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" and, again like Jerry, Chris suffers the harsh consequences of his decision. Goobie's acknowledgments also extend to Roger Waters, formerly of the Britainís psychedelic band Pink Floyd, who composed the lyrics to the group's 1979 album, The Wall that was re-recorded as The Wall-Live in Berlin in 1992. As was the case with Kevin Major's Dear Bruce Springsteen wherein readers having knowledge of Springsteen's lyrics enjoyed an enriched literary experience, adolescents readers of The Lottery who are aware of the storyline found within the songs on Waters' The Wall will be able to make connections between the album's contents and the situation of The Lottery's major character, Sally "Sal" Hanson, who utilizes the Waters' CD, played at top volume, as a place of emotional refuge.
While most people voluntarily enter lotteries and hope they will win, the 1,500 grade 9-12 students in Saskatoon Collegiate annually become involuntary entrants in a lottery, one that they desperately hope to lose. This lottery is conducted early each school year by the Shadow Council, a secret-from-adults, by-invitation-only group composed of nine of the school's most popular and influential senior students. The Shadow Council, aka Shadow, hides its true identity behind the mask of membership in the Celts, a service club established decades earlier to carry out some of the grunt work connected with school events. This year's lottery "winner" is 15-year-old Sal Hanson, a grade 10 student and a third-clarinet player in the school band. When asked by the Shadow Council to explain what winning the lottery means, Sal replies, "It means I'm your dud for the year." Referred to as the lottery "victim" by Shadow, Sal is told, "Weíll assign you duties, and youíll perform them." However, Sal's "winnings" go beyond just carrying out these assigned duties. Sal is also to be shunned by all of the students in the school, and anyone who attempts to maintain a friendship with her will experience Shadow's wrath. Even though Sal thinks that her best friends, Kimmie Busatto and wheelchair bound Brydan Wallace, will stand behind her, Kimmie desserts her almost immediately as does Byrdan shortly thereafter when he is threatened with on-going damage to his wheelchair. A visible exile within her own school, Sal is told by the Shadow Council, "...weíre the only friends youíve got now." Beyond suffering the isolating effects of her social shunning which will continue throughout this school year and then be lifted, Sal initially does not find her assigned tasks to be too demanding or dreadful, with most of them simply requiring her to deliver envelopes to other students who must, in turn, carry out some school-related prank. In fact, Sal is even somewhat proud of her role in a Shadow ordered act directed at a rival high school. However, Sal's attitude changes completely when one of Shadow's members uses Shadow's power in a personally vindictive manner and Sal is forced to become involved in the public humiliation of a very overweight student, Diane Kruisselbrink. Following this act, Sal recognizes "she was now an inextricable part of Shadow, a direct accomplice to their malice and filth." However, that very recognition initiates Salís own actions directed at disturbing the Shadow universe.
While Goobie could have easily let her players simply become cardboard stereotypes, such is not the case, and characterization is very strong in the novel. A particularly interesting and complex character is Sal's antagonist, Willis Cass, the Shadow Council president, first trumpet in the school band and the "real" student council's vice president. Willis, who attempts to form a secret music-based friendship with Sal, surprising admits to her, "I don't have friends," for he perceives his position as Shadow President makes him as isolated as she is. Willis, who subtly protects Sal from some Shadow acts, also provides the vehicle for Sal to discredit "Shadow" when he accidentally or deliberately leaves behind a notebook containing Shadow "secrets."
In addition to Sal's having to deal with Shadow, she is also continuing to try to come to terms with what she believes was her direct causative role in her father's auto-related death, an event that occurred when she was just eight. An emotional support to Sal is her older brother Dusty, a second year student at University of Saskatchewan. Initially unknown to Sal, Dusty's attempts at thwarting Shadow during his days at Saskatoon Collegiate were directly responsible for her being chosen in this year's fixed lottery draw. Dusty, like Sal, also has a link to the Cass family. If The Lottery has a small weakness, it is that it possibly tries to do too much by including another continuing example of isolation via the autistic Tauni Morrison. While the character does contribute to the book's overall impact, in some instances her appearances seem to slow down the plot unnecessarily.
Nonetheless, The Lottery is one of this yearís "must" purchases. A fine independent read, the novel offers much for classroom discussion, especially regarding the role peer pressure can play in schools. Willis's statements, such as, "No one ever looks further than they want to see," or "We're giving them [the student body] what they want, or they wouldn't be going along with it," or "Everyone wants a victim, Sally - even you," plus Sal's remark, "The victim and the assassin are living inside each of us, [sic] we all play both parts," should evoke lively student responses. Schools already using The Chocolate War for classroom novel study will now want to twin it with The Lottery, and, if literature circles are being used, Arthur Slade's Tribes would be another novel to add to the mix.
Dave Jenkinson teaches YA literature courses in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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