CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 31. . . .April 15, 2016
Twenty Questions for Gloria.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada Young Readers, 2016.
276 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance
“It’s...the way you are, it’s as though this is a totally normal thing to be doing.” Like Tierney giving up her seat for him, I thought. Or the theater employee letting us into an R-rated movie. “What is it about you?” I asked.
“What is it about me, what?”
“The way you get people to do things.”
“Confidence,” he said simply. “If you’re totally sure of yourself, people trust in you.”
“What if you’re not sure of yourself?”
“Then it’s even more important to act like you are.”
“So it’s not hypnosis, then?”
“No,” he said. “And when I count to three, you’ll forget you ever asked that question.”
He smiled. Raised his water bottle. “To fugitivery.”
“To fugitivery,” I said, clunking my bottle against his. “You’ll have to teach me how to put the tent up, though. I don’t like being useless.
“You are not useless. These woods were your idea, remember – and they’re perfect.”
I liked him for saying that. For thinking it. It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that if I was asking for a pop-up tent lesson, I’d already started to anticipate a second night on the run.
While he went off with a flashlight to find somewhere well away from the tent to “fertilize the woods”, as he called it, I switched on my phone for the first time since we’d set off.
It was just after ten p.m. I’d meant to message home before now but it had gone clean out of my mind with all we’d been doing. There were texts and voice mails from Mum – several of them – and some from Tierney. My parents would almost certainly have found out by now that I hadn’t been with Tierney at all. They’d be angry. Also, sick with worry. As for Tier – my best friend would know I’d used her as a cover story. We’d always told each other everything but now she didn’t have a clue where I was, or who with, or what I was doing. I stared at the in-box.
A part of me thought that if I read or listened to the messages it would spoil everything.”
Gloria is a 15-year-old who is bored with school and with her friends and with her parents who seem far more interested in their own activities than in their daughter. Along comes Uman, a mysterious boy who transfers from another school and who seems exciting, courageous and frightening all at the same time. Uman does what he wants and doesn’t worry about how others may perceive his actions. When the chance comes for Gloria to abandon her humdrum life and spend some time on the lam with her new friend it seems like the perfect opportunity for her to reinvent herself and take a few risks. But is she taking on more risk than she realizes?
Martyn Bedford’s first young adult novel, Flip, won multiple awards in Britain, and Twenty Questions for Gloria seems destined to do the same. The main character, Gloria, feels her life has become monotonous and that she has lost all of the creativity and imagination that made her childhood exciting. She wants to have a ‘pink and purple’ life rather than what seems to be just a grey existence. Uman represents everything Gloria is not; he is confident, risk-taking, adventurous. He can seemingly charm anyone he meets, is well-spoken and creative, yet Bedford hints that Uman’s past might contain secrets, and readers only slowly learn the truth about this charismatic young man. These rumours and secrets about him linger right to the final pages of the novel.
The "twenty questions” of the title refers to the setting of much of the novel, a police interrogation room. Readers who enjoy crime shows and police procedurals will recognize that Gloria is a minor who has been missing for 15 days, and so the authorities are very interested in where she was, who she was with and why, and what may or may not have happened to her. Each chapter of the novel answers one of the detective’s questions with Gloria explaining her story in a series of flashbacks and describing not only the adventures she shared with Uman but also her growing feelings toward him. Readers also gain insights into why the main characters act as they do, learning about their family relationships, for example. Crime/mystery story meets romance – a surefire hit for young adult readers.
Bedford sets the novel in his native Britain, and so a few vocabulary items may seem unusual for Canadian teens, and some place names will not be familiar. This gives the story an interesting flavour and in no way will hamper understanding or appreciation of the book.
There is the oft-used coming-of-age theme in this novel, but Bedford goes beyond the usual high school story and presents two characters who embody the desire to get the most out of life, to take on whatever happens and make the best of it, to truly live life with no worries and no regrets. The two take risks and make decisions based on cutting a deck of cards and letting destiny decide their next move. How many of us, young adults and adults alike, would like to be able to do something similar? Leave the humdrum and routine behind and head out on what could become life-changing adventures. Bedford’s characters do exactly this and perhaps will leave readers wondering just how they could make even small changes in their own surroundings in order to enjoy life to the fullest. Not only does Bedford provide an excellent fiction work, but the author gives his readers something to think about well after the story is finished. Bedford writes beautifully, drawing readers into the escapist world of Gloria and Uman on the one hand and the gritty world of police and authority on the other. Readers will hate to see the story end and will have more than twenty questions of their own about what happened in Twenty Questions for Gloria and what potential they see in their own lives.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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