________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


Me and Luke.

Audrey O'Hearn.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 1987/2005.
174 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 0-88899-066-9.

Subject Headings:
Father and sons-Juvenile fiction.
Teenage pregnancy-Juvenile fiction.
Grandmothers-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

**** /4


. . . I asked if I could hold him for a little while. The young nurse had to go ask one of the hammer-faced ones, and she had to look at me real hard, but finally they decided between them that I wasn't going to hurt the kid.

They took me into the nursery office and made me put on a white jacket backwards and tied a piece of cotton around my mouth and nose. And then the young one brought my son out and put him in my arms, showing me how to support his head, which was all floppy, and tucking the rest of him into my spread-out palm so he was tight against my chest.

He looked me straight in the eye, and all of a sudden I knew it was him and me against all the nurses, parents, teachers - you name them. And I remembered the morning I woke up and my father was gone.

After I gave him back, I went down the hall to Lorene to find out more about this adoption business. I wasn't going to hand this great kid over to some losers who maybe wouldn't even look after him right.


However, Matt Wilson's girlfriend wants to give up the baby, get on with her life,"have some fun. Buy some new clothes." Lorene's mother, who completely blames Matt for her daughter's pregnancy and the gossip it has provided for neighbours, is completely hostile to him and equally adamant that the baby be adopted. After their conversation, Matt heads toward the nursery, ostensibly to return baby Luke after Lorene feeds him. But, Matt's misgivings about his son's future overwhelm him, and instead of taking the baby back, he walks towards the elevator and leaves the hospital with Luke nestled in his jacket.         

     At age seventeen, Matt does not have great prospects: he's a high-school drop-out, living in a boarding house on the income from casual jobs (and he's currently without one); his mother has remarried and moved to California; and his high-school buddies have pretty much forgotten him. His only other relative is his grandmother who has retired to her cottage on Georgian Bay. Leaving Lorene a note stating, "I have Luke with me. I'll take good care of him," Matt catches a bus heading north to Midvale, a town in cottage country. The soggy jacket resulting from Luke's soaking his dad's improvised diapers make Matt realize just how little he knows about the care and feeding of infants, and he's uncertain of how his grandmother will react when he arrives with Luke.

     Gram is clearly a no-nonsense sort of lady, and she takes charge of the situation very quickly. But, she also makes it clear to Matt that he must shoulder his share of the responsibility, and surprisingly, he eases into it remarkably well, even facing the three o'clock feedings with his "little buddy." He finds a job and explores the possibility of a new relationship - although he is disappointed when his potential girlfriend expresses total disinterest in children. Over time, with Luke and Gram, Matt settles into a routine of family life, although this family of an old lady, a baby and a teenager is clearly unconventional. But a fire at the abandoned cottage next door to Gram and investigations into Luke's situation create a real crisis for the family.

     Remarkably, things work out for Matt: he finds a job and a future working at the butcher shop in Midvale, makes some new friends, and finally, obtains legal custody of the "little guy" who has won his heart. He has dreams for his son's future, even though, like any parent, he worries about having done the right thing for the child. As for Lorene, one day, she and a new boyfriend drive out to visit Matt and Luke. The visit is awkward and ends with her assurance that she'll be back, but Matt has his doubts. With those doubts, he understands how their past relationship has changed both of them, and then realizes that in some way or another, Lorene will always be a part of his present life with Luke.

     Young adult literature is full of stories about pregnant teens, but the protagonists are invariably female (and set in American high schools - I liked the Canadian context). Me and Luke is unusual, not only for telling the story from the viewpoint of a teen father, but in depicting, in a very realistic and unsentimental way, the bond that develops between Matt and Luke and how it catches the young father by surprise. Nor does the book minimize the difficulty of raising a child without support, both emotional and financial. But readers cannot help but admire Matt for refusing to back down from the challenge that faces him. It's not a challenge that every young man could face and win, but Matt knows that this is his destiny. At the custody hearing, he states:

"I know I'm an ordinary guy. It might turn out that the only thing I ever do to make my mark, is to stand by Luke. For the rest, I think I've found out that I do need other people and I'll be grateful for any help I can get if I keep Luke. I'll do my best by him."

     Tough as it may be, we know that he will. A great story, with appeal both for male and female readers. Me and Luke is a worthwhile addition to high school library collections and a useful supplemental work for high school Family Studies classes. Amazingly, this novel is almost two decades old, but it could have been written this year. Although teens seem more likely to keep their children, the situation is no easier for them than it was in 1987 when the book was first written.


Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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