CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 12. . . November 24, 2017
Back in Victorian England, there were a group of writers who worked within the “social novel”, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and other more minor writers. These writers fictionally examined a social problem and sometimes even put forth a solution to that problem. (One often thinks, for example, of Gaskell’s North and South and her positing of the Captain of Industry as a new type of figure, one that could save England from its lack of leadership and general malaise.)
Fast forward over 100 years, and we have a similar sort of thing happening in the North American YA market. Novels like Laurie Anderson’s Speak, Beth Goobie’s The Pain Eater, and Patricia McCormick’s Cut depict a social problem and then examine the ramifications of it.
Cristy Watson’s Epic Fail tries to work within this genre. She admirably documents (in a literary way) the relatively recent issue of young women posting naked pictures of themselves in an attempt to appear “hot.” She also shows the despicable practice of boys sleeping with younger girls and then posting their naked pictures, almost akin to trophies. Watson muddies the waters, however, by examining the way restorative practices may have the potential to achieve harmony. Although Watson’s novel is topical and the issues deserve to be depicted in literary form, the novel is not entirely satisfying.
For starters, the characters in the novel are not particularly nuanced: there are good guys (and girls) and bad guys (and girls). In the first camp are Jared, his friend Kenzie, and Moonie, Jared’s gay friend. In the villain camp are two people: Bree, the girl who posts naked pictures of herself; and her boyfriend, Jared’s brother, Seth. Seth is a sexual predator; as well, he physically abuses his brother.
When the novel opens, Jared is in grade 11, as are Bree and Kenzie. Two years before, Seth and his friends had a party where the object was to sleep with as many grade nine girls as possible. Bree takes Kenzie to the party, and pictures are taken of Kenzie naked and inebriated. The photographs are distributed online; Kenzie is, of course, traumatized. After two years, Kenzie has started to recover, but then the pictures turn up online again. Jared helps her through her depression, and the two attempt to go back to the idyllic pre-pubescent friendship they shared previously, in elementary school.
Jared also participates in a mediation training session, learning that he was a “bystander” to what happened to Kenzie. Kenzie also finds freedom of sorts by turning to poetry and photography in order to express her emotions, dark though they may be. Along the way, Watson also documents the shortcomings of Seth’s family: a father who is emotionally absent, and a mother living in Nanaimo and oblivious to Jared’s problems. Herein lies another fault of the novel: it tries to address too many issues. Had the novel focussed on one central concern, it might have been more successful.
Epic Fail is part of the “SideStreets “series.” Other novels in the series include depictions of the following: cultural diversity, underage drinking, substance abuse, self harm, and many more current “hot button” topics. In fact, Cristy Watson has written another novel in the series, Cutter Boy, that was reviewed favourably in CM. Reviewer Stephanie Johnson remarked that “Cutter Boy is one of the best high interest reads out there today.” Although one can agree that Cristy Watson writes engaging, high interest novels, one wonders if perhaps the topical subjects are of more interest to her than the characters themselves, almost the case of the tale wagging the dog.
Adam Hunt, a teacher of English for almost twenty years, is now Department Head of Library and Social Sciences at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville, Ontario. His grade three daughter recently asked him if she could join Snapchat.
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Commercial use is available through a contract with the CM Association. This Creative Commons license allows publishers whose works are being reviewed to download and share said CM reviews provided you credit the CM Association.