CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 20 . . . .May 25, 2007
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2007.
214 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Jennifer Ariel Caldwell.
Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.
She roared an animal sound. She couldn't see, but she could feel. Taste too. She licked her arm, sucking her own blood. Why not? She was a creature of the night. A bloody abomination. She gagged and spat. Not a vampire after all.
It's not enough.
Angry, and still crying, AJ threw the rock away. She heard it thunk against the pit's wall and then land somewhere far below.
She was such a loser.
Tears dried, she stood, losing herself in the endless emptiness wrapped around her. It was so dark… and so big. It suffocated her, or maybe she was only forgetting to breathe. One step and she would fall. One step and it would all be over. Gone.
One step. One step and she would join him. Her friend. Her only friend.
Was he waiting? Would he forgive?
In her head, an image: Mom and Gramma. Searching.
They would cry. They would be devastated. Her fault.
"No!" she cried.
Knees buckling, she sat. And sobbed.
She did not want to die. That was the thing of it. The whole bloody thing. Besides, Mom didn't deserve this. No matter what had come before, she had always been there for AJ. Gramma too. The James Gang, all for one, and one for all. She didn't need no stinkin' dad. Never had and never would.
Spiders. Creepy, crawly, scare some people. Internet stalkers, creepy like spiders, use the web to ensnare their unsuspecting prey - perhaps more of us should be scared. In her teen thriller, Spider's Song, Anita Daher weaves a story of deceit and untold truths and shows us what happens when people don't talk face to face.
Fifteen-year-old AJ now lives with her Gramma in Yellowknife, left behind when her mom returned to university. AJ and her mom have bumped from place to place, fleeing a past her mom won't discuss. AJ hasn't seen her father since she was little, and neither her mother nor Gramma will tell her anything about him. AJ's angry, abandoned, and having trouble adjusting to yet another new school, another town, and life without her mom.
To deal with emotional agony brought on by bullies, a strict grandmother, and being deserted, AJ cuts herself, just a little bit and above the elbow so she can hide it. She refuses other kids' attempts at friendship, and, instead of building a social network, she opens up online in her blog.
AJ's self-isolation leaves her vulnerable. When she meets a traveling musician in town for the Caribou Carnival, someone who knew her mom as a young woman, she's intrigued. He's elusive, reclusive, and doesn't want her to tell anyone he's there, especially not her mom or Gramma. AJ knows he can tell her the truth about her parents. She tries to pry information out of him, but he dodges her questions. He keeps her hooked by giving her just enough illusion to encourage her dream of a loving family.
AJ pieces together the few shreds of the family story that she knows, fitting the stranger into the Dad role. He plays it well until he finally can't keep it up. The exciting climax pits AJ and the two kids she knows best against the stranger who slips away like a spider on a strand of silk. AJ ultimately recognizes the love and importance of her family (even though they're not adept at showing it) and new friends.
Overall, this book provides needed commentary on how far we will go when we're lonely and hurt. As humans, we need meaningful social connections, and when we're disconnected we're willing and able to mistake electronic solutions for real friendships. AJ is engaging, interesting, and I wanted things to turn out well for her. The slowly-building strength of her character overrides occasional plot questions. Other characters, such as her friend Mark, the snotty but ultimately helpful Alex, and her unpredictable Gramma, provide additional depth to the story.
The setting is important to the novel, and the Yellowknife spring works well as a unique backdrop for a thriller. Daher's use of AJ's blog works well as a means to communicate information to the reader and helps keep the story's time frame clear to the reader. (Daher, herself, is a terrific blogger.) AJ keeps in touch with her mother via email and emails the stranger, too.
Spider's Song addresses issues that matter to teens – identity, truth, friends – and does so in a modern context. I would recommend this book to teens who enjoy modern suspense stories and who are looking for a light but exciting read.
Jennifer Ariel Caldwell attends SFU's creative writing program, volunteers for the Red Cedar Award, and works on several library projects in Vancouver, BC.
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