CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 7. . . .October 17, 2014
With her fourth novel, Saskatoon-based writer Alice Kuipers proves again that she knows what teenaged girls want to read, and she knows how to deliver it. The Death of Us effectively mines the multilayered world of teenagers to explore sexual diversity. While some readers may find aspects of their lives reflected in this novel, most readers will appreciate it for the authentic characters and mysterious, suspenseful plot.
The story moves back and forth in time between a deadly car accident and the 14 days leading up to it. We learn that two teens, Callie and Ivy, are in the car, but their fate is not revealed until the end of the novel. These two share the narration of the story with a third teen named Kurt.
The primary storyline is Callie’s who tells us she is a “successful, balanced teenager….” This seems to be true. Callie is highly involved with the school’s newspaper, has lots of friends and a loving family. Boys are interested in her, and she seems interested in one or two of them. And then the mysterious Ivy returns to town. While Callie is drawn to Ivy, Callie’s mother seems to almost fear Ivy and the strange pull she has on Callie. She accuses Callie of being “intoxicated by that girl” and forbids Callie from having anything to do with Ivy. But it’s summer, Callie is 16, and Ivy really is alluring. With little self reflection and lots of encouragement from Ivy, Callie soon finds herself lying to her parents and even sneaking out to bars to be with Ivy.
A lot of the tension in this novel comes from what people don’t say, cryptic comments, half finished thoughts and allusions to events from the past. While the chapters Ivy narrates do allow us a peek into her life, we are actually left with more questions than answers: Why have Ivy and her mother moved so many times? What’s the truth about Ivy’s last boyfriend? Ivy seems determined to start a new life, but why? And why does Callie’s mother dislike Ivy so much?
Even stranger than Ivy’s chapters are Kurt’s. These chapters jump forward in time to the hospital waiting room following the car accident. But there is a strange, disconnected feeling about Kurt’s narration, as though he’s watching and listening from a distance.
“I’d love to be like that, so provocative yet comfortable, so sexy”, says Callie to herself, gazing longingly at Ivy. For most of the novel, Callie fails to correctly identify her feelings, believing she wants to be “like that”. Instead, it may be that what she wants is something entirely unexpected. While the plot moves briskly towards the deadly car accident, Kuipers does a long, slow reveal of the truth of Callie’s feelings for Ivy, both to the reader and to Callie.
Kuipers has done a masterful job of integrating the important theme of sexual diversity into an engaging story about realistic characters in an intriguing storyline.
Charlotte Duggan is a teacher librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.