CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 41. . . .June 26, 2015
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2015.
399 pp., trade pbk., $15.99.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Joan Marshall.
He turned to her again. In place of the grimace was something less wounded. Almost cocky. “Everything’s easy for you, isn’t it? Even this.”
“If it makes you feel better, I occasionally have a bad hair day.”
“So there is a God.”
She suppressed a laugh. “How does it taste?” she asked.
He blinked. “How’s what taste?”
“The crow you’re eating.”
“I’ve had better,” he said.
“Too bad. We Jaffreys usually serve only the best.”
Now he was the one laughing, and she liked what it did to his face, smoothing out those stern lines on his forehead and crinkling the skin around his eyes, which she noticed were grey. Like pewter with hints of silver melted into it.
He put both hands up as if in surrender. “You think maybe we could start over?” he asked. “Pretend yesterday didn’t happen?”
She studied him for a moment, considering his suggestion. After all, he had apologized. Besides, there was something about him that intrigued her, something vaguely mysterious, although she had no idea why’d she think such a thing. She held out her small hand. “I’m Willa Jaffrey,” she said.
“Nice to meet you, Willa Jaffrey.” He took her small hand in his large one and squeezed it gently. “Keegan Fraser.”
Because of his father’s whistleblowing actions, actions that resulted in his mother’s violent death, 17-year-old Keegan and his family have been relocated from the United States to small town Nova Scotia where they have been instructed to blend in and not draw any attention to themselves. Although Keegan bitterly blames his father for all their misfortunes, he understands clearly the danger to his younger autistic brother, Isaac, and usually plays it safe. However, he can’t help himself when he sees the sexual bullying of Bailey and Raven and is himself bullied and ostracized by the in-crowd at Brookdale High. Uber couple Willa Jaffrey, the privileged daughter of a wealthy businessman, and Wynn d’Entremont, powerful athletic son of the mayor, reign over high school life, but gradually Wynn’s true violent nature becomes more and more evident, and Willa breaks up with him, finding herself attracted to Keegan’s honesty and compassion. Woven into this story are the actions of the cruel and vicious Griff Barnett, hitman for Pavel Morozov, the criminal mastermind whose business has been affected by Keegan’s father’s revelations. Griff uses computers to search for Keegan’s family, sure that someone somewhere will put a foot wrong and he will be able to find and eliminate his boss’ enemies. At the remote Jaffrey cabin on Delusion Road leading down to the Bay of Fundy, the two stories come crashing together in an action-packed blur of blood and death.
Delusion Road is full of very strongly written characters whose lively interchange makes the plot zing along. At first the stereotyped selfish queen bee heading into what she thinks will be the best school year ever, Willa gradually reveals her uneasiness over the casual torment her best friends dish out to the more lowly students. Her strengths of compassion and social justice, plus her strong running ability, lead her in the right direction and ultimately save her life. Keegan’s overwhelming grief and anger spill out often, but he manages to control his emotions to help his younger brother and his new friends, Bailey and Raven. Even in the face of Griff’s terror-filled attack, Keegan keeps his head and protects his family. Young Isaac’s autism is clearly and sympathetically drawn, the caring attention and connection with him of his special needs teacher and his family palpable and loving. Wynn plays the part of the flamboyant, powerful athlete, adored by all until his actions towards Bailey and Raven come to light and his past comes back to haunt him. Bullied overweight Russell uses his cutting sense of humour to cope. The phys ed teacher and vice principal are more stereotyped, but Mr. Richardson, the English teacher, is sharply drawn and clearly influences his students in a positive manner. Classroom scenes are full of smart language and serious thinking. Lastly, Griff Barnett is a chilling portrait of a damaged individual who has no compunction to killing anyone who gets in his way. His ugly, terrifying and soul destroying childhood provides sad reasons for his actions.
Dialogue is up-to-date, witty and entirely within typical high school language patterns. Cell phones, texting, computers and the morass of social media are seamlessly integrated into the story. The story is told in third person but focuses on the internal thoughts of Willa, Keegan and Griff. The gripping story of how to keep your self-esteem and respect in a sea of poisonous relationships in a typical small town high school is emotionally rivetting. But the added inserts of Griff’s plot to kill Keegan’s family bring it to a much higher level of complexity that will have readers glued to the page.
The eternal theme of bullying, how we treat others and how we act as bystanders to cruelty comes through loud and clear and will provide many hours of contemplation and debate for all readers. This debate is not restricted to high school as the adults in this novel also face the same question: what do we do when we see someone hurting others? Do we protect the powerful at the expense of others? What repercussions are there for those who challenge the status quo in the face of evil? Delusion Road would be an excellent choice for a literature circle and would provoke much discussion.
Set firmly in small town eastern Canada with students studying French and soccer the school sport, Delusion Road will resonate with both girls and boys. Its surging momentum and compelling themes will keep them reading to the very end.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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