CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 38 . . . . June 3, 2011
Toronto: Sumach Press, 2010.
323 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Danielle lay in bed that night with her head propped up on her hand. “I skipped gym with her one day last week – did she tell you?” Zoe, lying in the cot next to her, shook her head. “We rode down to the beach, we were just having a good time, and then all of a sudden she started talking about all these freaky things. Like, she said she was home alone one night, and she took out a bunch of Quaaludes and just stared at them for like an hour. She thought about taking them all at once and seeing if she – if she would die or not. She said if she lived, then maybe it would be a sign that she was meant to live.”
“Oh God,” Zoe groaned, pressing her face into her pillow.
“So I was getting more and more scared, and then all of a sudden she stopped talking and said, What’re you looking at me like that for? As if nothing she was saying should be bothering me. I said, Naomi, you can’t do that, it won’t solve anything, you’ve got to talk to someone about it. And then she just laughed and said, Oh, I was only kidding, Danielle. You take everything so seriously. But why would she even kid about something like that?”
Zoe turned her face up from the pillow. “She said the same thing to me.”
“Yeah, she joked about killing herself, and then she said she didn’t really mean it.”
“But do you think she really does mean it?”
“I have no idea,” Zoe said. “How can you tell?”
“I don’t know,” said Danielle, rolling over onto her back and pulling up her covers. “I don’t want to think about it.”
Leora Freedman sets her novel in Connecticut in 1973. Zoe, who is 16, wants to help her friend Naomi who is spiralling downward into a struggle with drugs and suicidal thoughts. When Naomi can’t seem to reach her friend, she consults her Hebrew teacher, Rivka Lev. This sets in motion a chain of events which, it seems, no one can control and which leaves Zoe with more questions than answers.
Parachuting is a coming-of-age novel which takes Zoe and readers through many difficult situations. Zoe faces challenges and complex choices as she searches for some meaning in her life and struggles to find out who she really is. Through Zoe, the novel explores drug use, sexual orientation, religion and attitudes to war and pacifism. Freedman doesn’t make Zoe’s decisions easy, and, even at the end of the book, it isn’t clear if she always did the right thing. She seems to have developed a clearer sense of self and to have regained some confidence and equilibrium, but there is no fairy tale ending to the story.
Young adult readers will have empathy for the characters of the novel as they deal with the confusion and raw emotions felt by teenagers. Zoe is angry one minute, depressed the next. She and her friends have sex, smoke pot and habitually skip class so come across as realistic teens rather than some sort of angelic role models.
The novel deals with big questions and is open-ended, making it suitable for discussions in a classroom or book club setting The characters are self-absorbed, and, because the emotions seem never-ending, the book has few light moments. It is unrelenting and serious, dealing with difficult choices. That said, Parachuting will have appeal for many female young adult readers who will relate to and identify with one of the three main female characters.
Ann Ketcheson, who lives in Ottawa, ON, is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French.
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