CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 39. . . .June 16, 2017
10 Things I Can See from Here.
New York, NY: Alfred A. Knoff Books for Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by Random House), 2017.
309 pp., hardcover & ebook, $23.99 (trade hc.), $27.99 (GLB).
ISBN 978-0-399-55625-8 (trade hc.), ISBN 978-0-399-55626-5 (GLB), ISBN 978-0-399-55627-2 (ebook).
Vancouver (B.C.) -Juvenile fiction.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
“What can I do?” Salix pulled away. “Can I make you a cup of tea? Want to go for a walk?”
“I just want to stop worrying so much! I can’t even do anything, so what’s the point?”
“You told me that you can’t really help it, right?” She wiped my tears with her shirt.
“So worry. Just go ahead and worry. Worry as hard as you can, and then keep worrying.”
“That sounds awful.”
“But if you can’t stop worrying, you have to figure out how to worry and keep living, right? We need to find you a really, really big box.”
“Not a box. A backpack.”
“For you to put your worries in, so that you can take them with you, and when you figure out how to not worry so much, you can get rid of them one at a time. And then the backpack will get lighter and lighter until you’ll be so light you’ll float right off the ground.”
I kissed her then, because there were no words for how much I liked her in that moment. Loved her, maybe.
Maeve has struggled with severe anxiety for years, and life seems to continually add more to her list of worries. Her mom, who has decided to live and work in Haiti for six months, knows Maeve is too nervous to stay home alone. So arrangements are made for Maeve to head to Vancouver in order to spend the time with her dad and her pregnant stepmom Claire and their two young boys. This is anything but a calm environment, and events during the summer only seem to increase Maeve’s anxiety level.
Maeve is an interesting main character who both delights and aggravates readers. She seems to truly care about the people around her and wants to be calm and considerate, but her nervousness continually gets in the way. Through a stream of consciousness, readers share the many concerns and worries which seem to continually flow through Maeve’s mind. She can provide endless statistics about death, whether due to car accidents or floods. This makes her worry about learning to drive a car or even taking a bus from her American home to Vancouver. Maeve also composes obituaries which she thinks might be appropriate in various situations which have the potential to go wrong. At first, the stats and obituaries are amusing and give an excellent picture of a teen dealing with anxiety. Author Carrie Mac uses this technique frequently, however, and for this reader it eventually became annoying.
The adult characters in the novel are an interesting group. Maeve’s mother is supportive and keeps in touch with her daughter, but, on the other hand, she thinks nothing of leaving for Haiti when she knows the fragility of her daughter’s mental state. When Maeve arrives in Vancouver, she is confronted with her father who has substance abuse issues and who appears to be losing his hard-won control over his life. Stepmother Claire is a strong maternal figure, unlike the usual stereotype. Claire’s younger brothers are typical little boys – adorable when they’re not completely aggravating. Interestingly, Mac has portrayed one of the twins as a strong, outgoing and fearless child, the antithesis of Maeve, while the other is just like his stepsister, hesitant and cautious.
And then there is Salix. She is a musician who busks in Vancouver until she can continue her musical education. On the surface, she appears to be calm and able to cope with what happens around her although readers learn that she, too, can have performance anxiety. She is both a love interest and a role model for Maeve, giving her the confidence to try new things. She also suggests strategies to cope with anxious moments, such as the technique of slowing yourself down and naming 10 things you can see around you. The “love at first sight” of the two girls seems a little too convenient. However, the author lets the relationship stumble before it eventually becomes more solid and secure, and Salix is truly helpful. Thankfully, Mac does not make Salix’s character a cure-all for Maeve. The author realizes the complexity of an anxiety disorder and the fact that it is unlikely any one person or strategy will provide some sort of magic antidote.
This young adult novel deals with many difficult themes. Maeve suffers from anxiety and also must cope with being gay. The issues of divorce and the dynamics of living with a stepfamily are woven through the story as is the theme of substance abuse and its effects both on the abuser and those around him. The major life events of both birth and death also have roles in the story. While all of these threads are interesting and many affect today’s young readers, this seems very ambitious, and we are often reading about Maeve’s reactions to her surroundings rather than getting to know the real teen.
While Mac may have thematically included more than necessary, she does paint a realistic and thought-provoking look at a teen with anxiety issues. Statistics tell us that students and young adults are more anxious than ever before, so congratulations to Carrie Mac for taking a timely topic and presenting it in a sympathetic and understanding way.
Ann Ketcheson. a retired high-school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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