CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 36. . . .May 16, 2014
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2014.
229 pp., pbk., hc. & epub, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $7.95 (epub).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0598-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0599-8 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0600-1 (epub).
Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.
Review by Jenice Batiforra.
A vehicle pulls into the other end of the alley. In outline, it looks like an SUV. Its lights shine in on us. They flash on and off, twice, then stay dark.
Jeff slips out of the car holding the warming bag. He strolls down the alley, swinging it. The SUV's front passenger door opens, but no one gets out. Jeff steps in close and grabs the top edge of the open door. The door hides most of his body. He stands there for a minute, then steps back. Someone pulls the passenger door shut. Jeff pats the roof of the vehicle, then lopes back to me.
"Hey, Meringue. You good for another run?"
Midnight is still a ways off. "As long as you can drop me back home at the end of it."
"Done." He disappears into the back door of the restaurant. After he's gone, the lights come up in the car at the end of the alley. They shine in on me. I shrink down in the seat, so my head barely clears the dashboard. It's uncomfortable to be seen without knowing who's looking at you. The alley is so narrow that I'm expecting the car to back up, but it slowly inches forward.
It draws up alongside Jeff's car with only a few inches to spare. When the side windows are level with each other, the car stops. The driver looks in at me. At first he's stony-faced, then he flashes a smile. He looks like he could be a cousin of Jeff's, but he's no one I've ever met. He mouths something behind the glass, but I don't feel like rolling down the window to hear him repeat it. The SUV rolls forward. It scrapes the trunk of Jeff's car as it passes. The driver honks and then turns onto the road.
Jodi Lundgren's Blow is part of Lorimer's “SideStreets” series, a collection of short, fast-paced novels that deal with contemporary issues to engage reluctant teen readers. Blow features Mary, a.k.a. Meringue, who moves to Alberta with her mother shortly after her parents’ divorce on the promise that she would get a head-start on obtaining her drivers' license. But upon moving to Red Deer, she finds more than just lenient driving laws. She finds herself caught in the middle as her closest friends get involved in dealing drugs and, as the only white girl in a largely Asian clique, she finds herself subjected to a level of racism she had never encountered previously.
The novel is told from the first-person narrative of Meringue, a 16-year-old girl who has recently moved to Red Deer from Vancouver. She and her best friend, Julie, both have a crush on Jeff, a Vietnamese boy who runs a pizza delivery restaurant for his father. In their attempts to win Jeff's affections, both girls become drawn into drug dealing. While Julie sheds her good-girl reputation, Meringue copes with small town bigotry as she pursues Jeff. As the plot quickly progresses, the reader finds Meringue trying to extricate herself and her friends from a dangerous situation without snitching on anyone.
It was refreshing to read a novel where Asians weren't relegated to a minor role, serving as token characters. In Blow, Lundgren features cultures not often seen in young adult literature, namely Filipino and Vietnamese Canadians. Lundgren is to be commended for portraying Asians within a contemporary context rather than in stereotypical ideals. Her writing shines as she portrays the complexities of racism through Meringue's relationship with Jeff. Through the couple’s interactions and their peers' reactions to seeing them together, Lundgren demonstrates that racism goes beyond slurs and uncomfortable glances.
In talking about drugs, Lundgren approaches the subject from a bystander's perspective so as to tacitly help teens envision how they might be able to assist friends who are caught in similar situations. Lundgren demonstrates a deft hand as she ensnares the reader in her characters' plights. In particular, readers will likely find themselves facepalming their foreheads in frustration as they see Meringue's naïveté when she first discovers her friends' drug dealing. However, they will likely sympathize at her continued willingness to go along with their schemes while she figures out how to help them.
Although the ending lingers in an unsatisfying limbo, overall the novel was a quick and easy read that proved true to its series: a short and edgy page-turner that should engage reluctant teen readers.
Jenice Batiforra was previously a Branch Head Librarian at the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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