CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 3. . . .September 22, 2017
Jumped In. (Rapid Reads).
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2017.
104 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1627-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1628-2 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1629-9 (epub).
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Chris Laurie.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“So where do you really live?” he says.
I tell him the name of my intersection. He nods.
“Rough part of town.” He says.
“No cops around there.” I say. “We got bigger problems than skateboarding.”
“You have family?”
I tell him about my sister and my mom. I leave out the part about my mom being a drug addict. No need to fill every stereotype today.
“So how come you hang around here?”
“I wanna go to college someday.” I say.
I’m surprised to hear myself say that. I never said that out loud before. I never even let myself think it. But he doesn’t laugh at me or look surprised. He just nods again.
“I figured that was it,” he says. “I knew when you told me criminal justice that you were a man with a plan.”
“Come on, bro,” I say. “I was just straight up gassin’ you. I never even thought about it. Not once.”
“And yet you said it,” Officer Friendly says. “You didn’t even hesitate. You just said it.”
“So I think you were telling the truth. You really do want to make the world a safer place.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I say.
“Starting with your neighbourhood. Am I right?”
He looks at me. I’m surprised to feel myself getting hot behind the eyes, like they’re about to start leaking. Damn, is this dude some kind of wizard? I duck my head down and pretend to blow my nose into a napkin. Because for some reason, when he said that my thoughts went right to my sister.
Rasheed doesn’t feel safe at home, in school or on the streets of his neighbourhood. The local gang, the E Street Locals, have taken over and are trying to ‘jump him in’ to the gang. Worse, he knows this is the very gang that shot his sister, leaving her paralysed. His mother is barely a shadow, an addict who rarely leaves her bedroom. Sixteen-year-old Rasheed is struggling to find some meaning in his life and often wanders through the nearby college campus. He hardly dares to dream of one day being a student there.
One day, as curious Rasheed reads an encyclopaedia in the library, he is ID’d by a cop. Sceptical that Rasheed is actually enrolled in the Criminal Justice program as he claims, the officer is about to eject him from campus when a female student comes to his rescue, claiming that he is, in fact, enrolled. Struck by this gesture of kindness, Rasheed returns to the campus the next day in hope of striking up a conversation with her, but instead he is confronted again by the officer. The two strike up a conversation and soon discover a mutual respect. The cop, referred to only as ‘Officer Friendly’, suggests that Rasheed’s initial joke of being a Criminal Justice student might have a basis in truth. Their subsequent conversations on gang life, police work and justice lead Rasheed to reflect on the life choices he makes and lead him to consider how he might begin to take control of his life.
But, on the way home Rasheed is stopped on the street by the local police, and again he’s asked for ID. Just as the situation starts to escalate, the E Street Locals show up and the cops back off. Rasheed is told that the Boss wants to see him, which he knows is going to lead to the brutal beating that marks initiation into the gang. He has no choice but to go… Gaining consciousness at some point much later, Rasheed is taken out onto the street to sell crack “like I’ve been doing it all my life.” Is this Rasheed’s inevitable fate?
Kowalski’s latest title is a superb example of the novella as an art form. It completely engages the reader in a short period of time. Jumped In fuses both well-developed characters with a compelling action plotline. The novel touches on issues that include prejudice, social injustice, addictions, self-determination and more, in a contemporary urban setting. Rasheed is an engaging and likeable teen, adrift until he finds support and direction from an unexpected source. The tight plot and plain language act together to compel the reader to root for Rasheed and to hope that he is able to rise up out of this hopeless existence.
Inspired by Ian McEwan’s assertion that "the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction", Orca’s “Rapid Reads” brings readers titles by best-selling authors, books that are intended for a diverse audience, including EAL students and reluctant readers. With contemporary settings, strong characters and a plot-driven story, Jumped In is a superb example of the novella.
William Kowalski is the author of 14 novels, including the international bestseller Eddie’s Bastard, winner of South Africa’s Ama-Boeke Prize. His work has been translated into 15 languages. Four of the titles William wrote for the “Rapid Reads” series have been nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Golden Oak Award. He lives with his family in Nova Scotia.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.
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