________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 12 . . . . November 18, 2011


Escape Velocity.

Robin Stevenson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
232 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-866-0.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Nicole Dalmer.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Now that Iím back in school, I work three evenings a week plus Saturday at the WBD. The Worldís Biggest Dinosaur. In the summer, I worked full-time. Tourist season.

You can see the Worldís Biggest Dinosaur from a long way off. Itís a T-rex, supersized and made of fiberglass and steel. Its head towers over the buildings and trees, and it looks like it could walk right across the parking lot and crunch the cars beneath its feet. Except, of course, that its feet are firmly anchored to the ground and a staircase leads through its insides, winding up and up, right through its empty head and into its gaping sharp-toothed jaws. So this T-rex isnít going anywhere. Itís stuck here, just like me.

Lou Summers is a 15-year-old girl attempting to cope with more than your typical teen woes. Though her father, Garland, is both loving and caring, heís developed an addiction to painkillers after an accident left him unable to work, leaving Lou to run their household in southern Alberta. Her mother, Zoe Summers, now a successful Canadian poet and author, had left Lou at birth. Lou has read all of Zoeís books and poetry collections, seeking to better understand the woman who has remained, for the most part, out of her life. The last meeting between Lou and her mom was disastrous and left Lou feeling even more distant from Zoe. After Garland suffers a serious heart attack, forcing Lou to stay with her mom in Victoria, this strained mother-daughter relationship faces some radical and tough changes. Zoe remains detached, and Lou becomes increasingly angry, hurt and confused with her motherís actions and their relationship while juggling these feelings with the concern she has for her fatherís ailing health. When an older woman causes a bit of a scene at one of her motherís book readings, Lou begins to dig deeper into her familyís past and realizes there may be much more behind the books her mother has written.

      Stevenson shrewdly crafted authentic characters, enhanced by realistic dialogue and descriptive details of Louís surroundings (readers familiar with Victoria and southern Alberta will be immediately familiar with the authorís depictions). As Lou grapples with her new surroundings and the difficult and sometimes painful relationship she shares with her mother, teens will surely identify with facets of Louís behaviour, thought processes and word choice. In contrast, the overall plot and family turmoil felt slightly clichťd and its pacing felt choppy, slowly weaving its way at the beginning, then rushing to a conclusion when I had just begun to better grasp the nuances of the charactersí actions.

      At some points in the book, Louís penchant for poetry (perhaps mirroring her motherís gift of writing) is evident in the choice of Louís inner dialogue, though I wish that this creative wording had appeared more consistently throughout the book. I was quite impressed Stevensonís ability to weave in the concept of escape velocity (the speed an object has to travel to escape Earthís gravitational pull) as a topic Lou is learning about in school, a way Lou describes her emotions regarding the unconventional relationship with her mom, and as the title of Zoeís latest book.

      Escape Velocity is a relatively smooth and enjoyable read. Stevenson skillfully and gingerly balances difficult concepts, such as abandonment, drug abuse and loss, through her use and development of dynamic and honest characters, thereby allowing readers to mull over the intricacies of their own personal relationships.


Nicole Dalmer is in her second (and last!) year of the MLIS program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, AB.

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

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