________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 23 . . . . February 20, 2015


Empty Cup.

Suzanne Costigan.
Winnipeg, MB: Rebelight Publishing, 2014.
167 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $12.99 (pbk.), $11.99 (ebook).
ISBN 978-0-9939390-4-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-9939390-5-1 (ebook).

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



Sarah passes me the throw she knitted. Lyla and I call it the "Easter egg" because of its bright yellow and royal purple stripes.

"I can pay rent, you know. To help out."

"I don't want your money, Raven." Sarah takes a long slow breath. Her eyes search my face, for what, I'm not sure. "In the meantime, we'll find a way to fill that empty cup of yours."

"My what?"

"Empty cup." She smiles and pats her lap. "Rest here."

I put my pencil and pad on the coffee table, then lay my head in her lap. She rubs my arm. "Imagine a cup of tea inside you."

I picture the paisley china cup with the bright rose inside, floating in my stomach.

"When you are loved and feel safe and secure your cup runs over with happiness," Sarah says.

What colour is happiness?

A thick orange fluid fills my cup until it overflows and fills me from my head down to my gigantic toes. The sunset-coloured liquid is warm and soft like satin, filling my veins, replacing my blood. I feel better just thinking about it.

Sarah continues. "But when it's empty, you feel hollow and unfulfilled, maybe lonely and sad. And I think right now, you're scared. You have every right to be, Raven. Every right to be terrified. But that means your cup is empty. Understand?"

The fluid drains out of my veins and back into the cup. And then it evaporates bit by bit, until a red rose is all that remains.

It's such a beautiful cup. Way too pristine for me. I imagine taking the cup out of the cupboard and letting it slip from my fingers to the counter. The curvy handle snaps off, and white shards with gold trim splinter off the side. I glue the pieces back together.

There. That's more like it.

Raven is a Winnipeg teenager in her last year of high school when she is attacked and raped by Trevor, her mother's boyfriend. Her mother is not at all supportive and, in fact, blames Raven and kicks her out of the house. Raven lives with her friend Lyla and later with her friend Cole and does her best to put the pieces of her life back together. At one point, a compassionate teacher seems to be the answer. But Raven soon learns that people aren't always what they appear to be. In the end, she understands that only she can be responsible for how she rebuilds her life and moves ahead into the future.

      Costigan presents her readers with unforgettable characters in this first novel. Raven's mother is a dysfunctional parent who has few redeeming qualities. She does not listen; she does not compromise. She makes it clear that she has no love for her only daughter and, if anything, sees her as a rival for the affections of any male who enters the picture. Eventually we understand a little more of what has caused this hateful woman to act as she does, but it is never enough to convince us to like her.

      Raven has lived her entire life with an abusive mother and consequently has low self-esteem which plummets even further after the rape. She feels that Trevor's malevolent spirit is constantly around, overtaking her mind and invading her relationships with everyone around her. There are times when she feels that there is really no one she can trust because the adults in her life and her peers apparently will quite willingly abandon her. When she finds an attentive teacher who seems to have her best interests at heart, she is once again deceived and is even more certain that she can rely on no one but herself.

      Raven makes some bad choices in the book, and consequently readers may become frustrated with the character, even as they understand her motivations. She does not want to talk about the rape, does not want to report it to anyone and refuses to seek medical attention. She provides a great example of self-reliance taken too far. On the other hand, readers will admire that she manages to keep her part-time job despite everything and is pivotal in getting her friend Cole off drugs and helping him stay clean. In the end, she makes a sensible decision about the pregnancy resulting from the rape, and readers see how she has matured and how capable a young woman she is. While Costigan is wise enough not to provide a 'happy ever after' ending, readers sense that Raven's relationship with Cole and her artistic talents will at least temporarily provide the solid base from which she can move ahead.

      Those who live in Winnipeg or who have visited the city will recognize many of the well-known landmarks in the book, but the story could have any urban setting. Empty Cup is a novel which revolves around characters and the relationships among them.

      Costigan's writing is able to rouse the reader's emotions as we join the rollercoaster ride of Raven's life. There are some lovely images used as well, particularly that of the empty cup of the title. Raven, like the cup, has been snapped apart and dropped and must be slowly and carefully put back together again.

      Thematically, Costigan touches on some difficult material: emotional and sexual abuse, drug use, teen pregnancy. She does this with realism and yet with understanding and true empathy for the characters of the novel. She is never preachy and lets Raven make all kinds of poor choices before gently helping her get back on track. An author's note at the end of the book points out that teens in trouble should always seek help, either from someone they know or from an anonymous source such as the Kids' Help Phone.

      This author has an engaging and entertaining style, using short chapters to keep the pace of the book moving and keep readers always just a little edgy about what will happen next, fearing the worst yet hoping for the best. Empty Cup is a wonderful beginning to Costigan's writing career and hopefully there will be more young adult novels to follow.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

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

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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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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