CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 39. . . .June 8, 2018
The Thing You’re Good At. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, August, 2018.
181 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1804-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1805-7 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1806-4 (epub).
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Karyn Miehl.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I made Maria a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. There wasn’t much else in the house. But she didn’t eat it. I looked at the clock on the stove and realized my father would be home any minute.
Minutes later I heard him in the hall, fumbling with his keys and cursing. It was his usual mood when he came home from work.
When the door opened and he walked in with a couple of bags of groceries, he looked first at Maria and then at me. He’d met Maria a number of times, but he’d hardly ever said anything to her. Maybe he didn’t like her because she wasn’t like us, or maybe he didn’t like me having a girl for a friend. I never knew.
“Looks like we got company,” he said flatly.
“Maria needs our help,” I said.
“She in some kind of trouble? ‘Cause we got enough trouble of our own. We don’t need to take on someone else’s grief.”
“They took her parents,” I said.
“The immigration people. They’re in the detention center and are going to be kicked out of the country.”
“Freakin’ government. Won’t let anybody just be.”
“Dad, Maria needs someplace to stay. She needs to stay here with us. For now anyway.”
He just shook his head. “No way. No way, no how. We can’t get involved with any of that immigration shit. I have one son in jail. And that’s one son too many.”
Maria looked at me and then down at the floor. She started to stand up. It was pretty clear he didn’t want her here.
“She’s staying,” I said. It had been a long while since I’d stood up to my father. The last time I had, he’d smacked me in the head. But I knew I had to speak up now.
Jake, a high school student, lives in the poor part of town and can count the number of friends he has on one hand. When Maria (one of his friends) goes missing and Jake learns that her parents are being detained and will be deported, he enlists the help of one of his teachers to try to help her parents. Jake finds Maria and offers her refuge in his home until her situation is sorted out. Then Maria disappears again, and Jake learns that she has been abducted by human traffickers. Jake reconnects with his older brother, Cole, who is in prison, to see if Cole can discover from any other inmates if this truly is the case. Cole confirms it is and provides information on Maria’s location. Jake, his brother Luke, and their father rescue Maria.
This high-interest novel is broken into many chapters that are short and manageable for readers. Chapter 1 piques the reader’s interest right away. The narrator’s father works at a Fish Shack that he (the father) calls “the Shit Shack” (p. 1), and, even though he hates working there, he is “afraid to quit” (p. 1). This immediately makes the reader wonder ‘why?’, about both pieces of information. The narrator also admits that he and his younger brother have had a lot of bad news in their lives, and, as he doesn’t specify what kind of bad news, this makes the reader curious about what has happened to them in their lives.
In terms of using The Thing You’re Good At in class, it does present learning opportunities for students. For example, each of the characters in the novel has a distinct personality, and each character undergoes change. Engaging in a close reading of the text to search for evidence of these changes could be a worthwhile activity and lead to meaningful discussion.
Also, at one point in The Thing You’re Good At, Jake is describing his two history teachers (one former and one current), comparing and contrasting them. This, too, could provide an introduction into writing a compare and contrast piece, after analyzing this as an example and using it as a basic model to follow.
Students can also make personal connections to the novel. For instance, Jake’s current history teacher, Mr. Lotz, forms a connection with Jake and inspires Jake to think and to better himself. Student readers could reflect on role models in their own lives as they examine Mr. Lotz’s effect on Jake.
Overall, this novel is fast-paced and easy to read. The sentence structure is basic, and the vocabulary is not difficult. The storyline is one that will interest teen readers who may feel that they have a bad lot in life, or who feel that they cannot affect change in the world or within themselves. The Thing You’re Good At is a novel that will hold student readers’ attention and will enable them to connect with the text in a variety of ways.
Karyn Miehl, a mother of two and a secondary school English teacher, lives in Kingsville, ON.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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