CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 6. . . . November 15, 2002
Justin, a robust member of the Jock Tribe, clutched my collar with meaty digits. His right hand was clenched in a fist.
"Don't" Whack. "Ever." Whack. "Call me!" Whack. Whack. "That!" Whack. "Again!" Whack.
His football ring flashed in and out of my vision, stamping impressions in my cheek that would likely be documented in Grad pictures next Thursday. Justin's features were Cro-Magnon: high forehead, thick skull, broad face. The color of his large gray eyes resembled that of an atomic mushroom cloud. Football season was long over, leaving him with vast reserves of simmering testosterone. I was helping burn them off.
"Got that, you little turd?" He shook me. My limbs flopped, but his grip prevented my collapse.
"Don't follow me. Don't even look at me." Justin rapped Stonehenge-sized knuckles on my skull. "Got it?"
I nodded. The signal. Submission. He was Lord of the Apes, the Almighty Banana King. I was a low monkey, not worth his energy. Not worth --- Whack!
The luckless non-Alpha male being beaten by Justin is Percival Montmount Jr., son of an anthropologist. Like his dad, who disappeared while off on a field study, Perc (pronounced "perk") also observes tribes, although the subjects of his observations are fellow students at Groverly High in Saskatoon: members of the Jock Tribe, the fashionistas of the Lipstick/Hairspray Tribe, the various sub-clans of the Hockey Tribe, the computer geeks of the Digerati Tribe, and so on. Assuming his father's role as observer and recorder, Perc is definitely on the outside of high school society. Still, he is not totally alone: there is his gorgeous not-quite girlfriend, Elissa (described by Justin as "Freak Girl" due to her choice of clothing and association with Perc), and amongst teachers, he counts as a friend the school librarian, Ms. Peters (yes, really, that's her name!-page 23), who is kind to him and buys books that he likes. Together, he and Elissa view, record and dissect the tribal behaviour of their graduating class, and, as the school year draws to a close, no event is more deserving of anthropological study than the culminating ritual of Grade Twelve graduation.
Tribes is a short book, but in less than 150 pages, Slade manages to weave together a variety of plot lines: the strange story of Perc's father's disappearance (the mystery being solved at the end of the book), Elissa's attempts to detach Perc from his scientific stance and turn him into a real grad date and boyfriend, the sad tale of Willard Spokes - Perc's friend and lovelorn suicide victim, and Perc's own struggle to come to terms with the fact that, for all his nerdiness, he, too, is a soon-to-be graduate of Groverly High, and, as one, he must participate in his culture's coming-of-age rite. And, as a formerly nerdy teenager, I really empathized with Perc and his struggle both to be different from and the same as his peers. Arthur Slade does an excellent job of capturing the subtleties and complexities of high school social structures, its cruelty and its caring.
Much as I enjoyed Tribes, I think that it will appeal to a certain kind of reader. Perc's vocabulary is sophisticated; at one point, Justin says to him "You don't even speak English, do you? Just that fake science crap."(page 51) Members of some of the tribes depicted in the book might not take kindly to Perc's description of them. Still, Tribes is a great read, and, if you are looking for an interesting companion piece to Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, this is it.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB and has never been the teacher- librarian at Saskatoon's Groverly High, honest!
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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.