CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 17. . . .January 8, 2016
Every once in a while you read a book that really sticks with you. You canít get a character or a plot out of your head and think about the book for days. Young Man With Camera, by Emil Sher, is one of those books. Sher presents readers with a young man named Tó who faces cruel and extreme bullying in his life as an adolescent. Readers never learn Tóís real name:
Tó is called a mutant by a group of boys (referred to as ďJoined at the HipĒ) because Tó has facial scars from an accident where he was burned as a young child. To cope with his life, Tóbecomes an avid amateur photographer, taking poignant black and white photos of the world around him. Tó befriends a homeless woman named Lucy and they develop a close relationship. Armed with his camera, his best friend Sean and his dog, and Lucy, Tópushes on and goes about his life. He has a kind teacher named Ms. Karamath who ďgetsĒ Tóand introduces him to other famous photographers, such Diane Arbus. But things continue to go sour in Tóís life as the extreme bullying and harassment spiral out of control.
While I donít want to reveal too much of the plot, one of the reasons that Young Man With Camera sticks with a reader so long is that the ending is wholly unsatisfying. When you read online reviews from readers, most readers are unhappy with the ending and are left haunted by the book and its characters. I honestly felt the same. I had lingering questions and was disturbed by what happened to the characters. However, I do realize that Sher is depicting life, and particularly, the life of adolescents. Adolescents donít always do the ďrightĒ thing. To be clear, this is not a didactic book about bullying. This book is raw and gruesome. As unsatisfying as the ending may be to us as readers, I do feel Sher is honest with the plot and his characters.
Another reason that the book really sticks with you is the writing of Emil Sher. His writing style is so expressive and finely crafted; every word has such purposeful thought and intent. The insights that Tó presents about life are extraordinary, and I found myself rereading sentences just to soak them in. Sher pushes boundaries by creating a different way of narrating a story Ėhe doesnít use quotation marks, includes the unsaid of the character, and presents the photographs that Tótakes (by photographer David Wyman). And it all works. I honestly canít remember the last book that I have read that was so purely well-written. As I said earlier, some adults will be uneasy with Young Man With Camera. But I think itís a book that will grip young adult readers from the first chapter. I feel that Sher has created a modern classic for young adults. Itís a book that I am still thinking about.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.