________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006


Degrassi Junior High: Snake. [Former title: Snake].

Susin Nielsen.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 1991/2006.
183 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55028-926-8.

Subject Headings:
Homophobia - Juvenile fiction.
Brothers - Juvenile fiction.
Identity (Psychology) - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Geneviève M.Y. Valleau.

**½ /4


Snake thought about something else Coach Singleton had said to them last Friday, when they’d had their first practice as the Degrassi Junior Boys Basketball Team. “Remember, being on a team is like being part of a large family. . . . If someone at home has a problem or falls ill, what happens?  The whole family rallies around that person to help. It should be the same here. Otherwise, the family – this team – will fall apart.”

At the time, Snake got the message loud and clear. But now, as he mulled over the coach’s words, he thought the message was too simplistic. What did you do when a family member hit the rest of you with such horrible news it was like you’d had the wind knocked out of you? With something so horrible you’d never, ever be able to “rally around that person.”


Being a child of the 80’s, I remember watching Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High on TV, and, even though I was a bit younger than the characters on the show, I still enjoyed the shows and could relate to one character or another. Publisher James Lorimer and Company first began to publish the Degrassi Junior High books in the early 1990’s and have now reissued some of the most popular characters’ books of the series. While some of the books are partial transcripts of an episode, others are original stories.

     In this particular book, the reader follows the story of one of the most popular characters, Snake, who is in Grade 9 and has just made the Degrassi Junior Boys Basketball Team. Since school has just started, Snake feels as though he’s off to a great start: his band “The Zit Remedy” is doing well; he’s finally made it onto the basketball team; and his brother, Glenn, has showed up from university for a surprise visit. But, Snake’s world is turned upside-down when Glenn tells Snake and their parents he is gay, and, instead of living in the university dormitories, he will be living with his partner. Snake must now figure out how he feels about his own sexuality and the sexual orientation of others around him. 

     While this novel is loosely based on an episode of Degrassi Junior High entitled “He Ain’t Heavy,” the novel develops more of the details of Snake’s year in grade nine and, therefore, more of Snake’s struggle with his feelings about sexual orientation. Snake goes through the gamut of feeling confused, angry and worried about his brother, while trying to figure out his own personal identity. The novel deals with teenage romances, bullying and sexual awareness. Because of this, this book would work well as an introduction to sexuality and the appreciation of people’s diversity. The writing is simple and straightforward and would be fine for a reluctant reader. Although the novel is not groundbreaking in terms of imagination or literary merit, it does serve its purpose to talk about sexuality and diversity.


Geneviève M.Y. Valleau is currently completing her Masters of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.


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

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