CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 16 . . . . March 30, 2007
Teens leave home to live on the streets for any number of reasons – abuse, neglect, or simply being misunderstood can result in them taking on the harsh lifestyle. This is the case for Brent, Ashley and Dana, three teens in downtown Toronto who scrounge for money, food, and a place to sleep each night. While Brent and Ashley have been barely surviving in this way for quite some time, Dana has only been on the streets for three weeks, is tired, dirty and hungry, and is already feeling much older than her 14 years. A cutter with a heart of gold, Dana left an abusive stepfather behind in the suburbs, took the train downtown and didn't return. One day while Dana is painting elaborate graffiti on an underpass, a worker from a drop in centre called Sketches gives Dana his card, as well as the opportunity to create art at the centre targeted at street youth. At Sketches, Dana meets Nicki, the "I'm going to change the world" director who not only offers artistic inspiration to Dana but also an outlet for her personal issues and ultimately a sense of hope. Despite the many gritty events of the novel, the loose ends are tied up easily – possibly because Walters did not want to leave readers with a total sense of despair for these long-suffering teens.
In Sketches, Walters has skillfully written yet another "here and now" novel, telling a story that I am all too familiar with from working with at-risk teens at Red Deer Public Library, many of whom live on the streets and consider the library to be their warm and safe place to spend the day. Whether teens end up on the streets because of a bad home situation or simply to rebel against their parents, then end result is often the same: an incredibly difficult existence that may involve any combination of drugs, alcohol, violence, crime, sexual exploitation, and an overall sense of hopelessness about the future. Forced to live one day at a time, these adolescents find that school, work and relationships fall away as their minds are taken over by such questions as: "Where will I sleep tonight?", "Will I eat today?", and "Will my belongings be stolen during the night?"
While I think it is fantastic that Toronto (and likely other large Canadian cities) have established such wonderful places as art drop-in centres for teens, the reality is that many cities do not make such places a high priority and teens are more or less on their own for finding their own "third place," after school and home. Even in economically healthy provinces like Alberta, securing funding for such facilities can be difficult – after a year of planning, a local drop in centre for at-risk street youth has just opened in Red Deer, but limited funding will only allow it to be open four hours a day, four days a week. Of course, this is a good start, but, if you are a teen who is spending all day and night on the streets, four hours a day is hardly enough time to make you feel safe, secure and comfortable.
Walters follows in Barbara Haworth-Attard's competent footsteps (in Theories of Relativity) in portraying a realistic picture of street teens. Some parents and teachers will no doubt think the book to be inappropriate for younger teens, but the fact remains that these teens are out there, living on our streets, with stories that need to be heard if we want to even begin to understand how to help them. One can hope that due to Walters' continuing popularity, a wide range of 12-16 year olds (and maybe even some teachers, librarians and other individuals who work with youth) will read Sketches and be woken up to this serious situation, and possibly even take the beginning steps to setting up a similar drop in centre for their own city.
Jen Waters is the Teen Services Librarian at the Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.
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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.