________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 20 . . . .June 9, 2006


All In. (SideStreets).

Monique Polak.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2006.
166 pp., pbk. & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55028-912-8 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55028-913-6 (cl.).

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ruth Sands.

** /4



"Aren't you afraid of losing?"

"Nah," I tell her. "Besides, I'm on a winning streak. And like you said, the trick is to quit while you're ahead. What's pathetic is the people who can't quit - even when they're losing."

"Like that lady we saw downstairs. The one who went right to the ATM after she lost all that money."

"Exactly." I take another bite of my duck. I don't want to say anything to Claire, but it tastes just like chicken.

"Don't get me wrong," Claire says. "I like this place." She waves her hand around the room so I know she's talking about the restaurant. "But there's something kind of sketchy about the rest of the casino. Everyone feels so-so." She searches for the right word. "Desperate."


All In, by Monique Polak, is the story of 15-year-old Todd Lerner who is an amateur gambler until his desire to impress a girl gets him into trouble. Claire has designer tastes for clothing and accessories, and, in order to win her affections, Todd uses his Texas Hold'em skills to make some quick money. Gambling, of course, isn't really the answer, and Todd quickly finds himself stealing from his parents and in debt to the high school loan shark. Told in the first person, this well-paced tale is full of valuable life lessons.

      The problem with the book is that the main character just isn't believable. The setting and background are a little too cliché; a rich boy, private school, absent parents. The character is too self-aware for a gambler. It has been my experience that you encounter two types of Texas Hold'em players. You have the player who just loves the game; it's not about the money, but about beating the game and the other players. The other type of player is the real gambler, the one with the problem, and Texas Hold'em is just one of many games. All In doesn't succeed at mixing the two.

      The other problem is that Todd is too self-aware. He realizes quickly that his gambling is out of control, and he manages to face up to it too quickly. A real gambler spends more time denying his addiction. While the teenage reader may understand the message of gambling is bad, I don't believe Todd will convince them of it. Todd never displays the confidence of a gambler - the total belief that his luck will change if he plays long enough. Apart from the believability of the main character, Polak does manage to portray the troubles the modern teenager faces. With easy access to the internet and a barrage of crime shows on TV, teens today are faced with more temptations than there were even a decade ago. The modern teen is sophisticated, and Polak does a good job of showing this.

Recommended with reservations.

Ruth Sands is a freelance writer from Vancouver, BC. She has spent over ten years working in the Canadian gaming industry.

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

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