CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 2. . . .September 11, 2015
After the death of his father, 14-year-old Waylon becomes fed up with all his responsibilities, looking after his younger siblings and cooking dinner while his busy mother goes to school and holds down a job. When he gets involved with his older punk cousin Creed and his dubious friends, Waylon ends up in jail overnight. His frustrated and exhausted single mother takes him out to her father-in-law Peter, a Metis who lives in the wilderness with no running water and no phone. Initially confrontational, Waylon co-operates in order to be fed while he plans to escape back to the city. As Waylon tries to find the road at night, he becomes lost and disoriented and is attacked by the Roogaroo, a spirit wolf at the centre of Moushoum’s tales. Peter rescues him but is, himself, knocked out by the wolf. Waylon, jolted into responsibility, nurses his grandfather back to health. They spend such a satisfying summer together that Waylon is easily able to brush aside his cousin’s invitation to get into more trouble.
Author Hayden perfectly captures the frustration of a teen boy whose responsibilities weigh heavily upon him while he receives no recognition and has no time for fun, at the same time longing for acceptance and friends. Waylon is a good boy, a good student and a dutiful son and brother. He’s thrilled to be included in his older cousin’s gang- finally his life is exciting. But when real danger threatens him and Peter, Waylon’s true character shines through, and he responds to Peter’s wilderness lessons in spades. In the end, he is able to stand up to Creed and co.
The Metis moushoum Peter is clearly an old-school survivalist whose cheerful no-nonsense approach – no work, no food – works to turn Waylon around. His spooky tales of the vicious Roogaroo, in everyday Metis dialect, are enough to terrify Waylon while he stumbles around in the dark.
Waylon’s loser cousin Creed and the much older, low-life Leroy, intent only on drinking, taking drugs, stealing from cars and throwing rocks at the school’s windows, are pathetic characters. Their robbery of the corner store demonstrates how quickly things can deteriorate for those idiotic enough to think crime is fun and glamourous.
Dialogue is tied neatly to character, with Waylon’s tired mother nearly monosyllabic and the boastful Creed and co slinging gang slang and put-downs. Waylon’s refusal to co-operate with his grandfather reveals how childish he is at that moment, and his calm, cool words to Creed after the summer demonstrate his new-found maturity.
Although the reading level and book length don’t allow for much description, city readers will be familiar with the playground and back alleys while rural students will identify with the bush at Peter’s cabin and the wood chopping and chicken and cow care that goes on there.
Murky, blurry illustrations intended to break up the text and add another layer of understanding for weaker readers are of such poor quality that they only detract from it. The wilderness cabin in the back cover photo brilliantly demonstrates Peter’s environment while the front cover of a confrontational teen seems too old to be Waylon.
This is a H.I.P. book (High Interest Publishing), a very short novel set at a grade three reading level. It has a useful teacher’s guide by Lori Jamison which can be downloaded. The guide incorporates current techniques in language arts, chapter summaries and easily achievable, visual activities that will support struggling readers. You Can’t Make Me and its guide could be used with struggling readers who will be attracted by Waylon’s emotional predicament and the scary Roogaroo attack while feeling satisfied with the ending that ties up all the loose ends.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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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.