CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 7. . . .October 20, 2017
Prince of Pot.
Tanya Lloyd Kyi.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood. Books/House of Anansi Press, 2017.
210 pp., hardcover & epub, $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-944-7 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-946-1 (epub).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Rebecca King.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Sam is leaning against the wall again, waiting when I pull into the school parking lot on Monday morning. She jogs toward my truck and climbs inside.
Before I realize what's about to happen, she leans across the seat and plants a kiss on my lips. As if we've been together for years. As if I'm used to having girls in my truck, or in my life at all for that matter.
I think my new shirts are working.
She shuts the door behind her.
“Let's get out of here,” she says.
I glance at the school, then back toward her. She's tough to figure out, this girl. She's like two or three personalities wrapped into one. When we had milkshakes together, she said only good things about school. She told me she liked Creston so much better than her last town.
Now she wants to ditch. Now she's the girl who climbed out of her dad's car and hiked into bear territory for the heck of it.
And let's not even talk about that poem. What kind of person has the guts to write that?
Maybe women are as unpredictable as bears.
She reaches over and beeps the horn.
“C’mon. Do it, Zac. Start the truck and peel out of here.”
Her grin is like a dare. My keys are back in the ignition.
The passenger door flies open. Lucas stands there, swaying slightly. He's stoned. I see it, then I smell it.
“What the heck?” I shake my head. It's not even 9 a.m.
Sam's already sliding into the middle of the bench seat and patting the upholstery beside her.
“Climb in,” she says. "We're getting out of here.”
Lucas does. He clambers up, slams the door and lets his head flop against the seat back.
I guess my subconscious decides where we're headed. I could go west, over the summit. I could drive east on the long straight highway that leads to Cranbrook, a slightly larger and grittier version of Creston.
But I head north, toward home.
Or rather, toward the campground.
Lucas explores the webbing between his fingers in the glow of the sunlight.
Sam and I glance at each other. I give a small shrug. Just because our lockers are together doesn't mean I understand the guy.
“Rough morning?” I ask.
“Family issues?” Sam asks at the same time. She's braver than I am.
I take my eyes off the highway for long enough to see Lucas nod. It's hard to tell if it's really a nod or if his head is too heavy for his neck.
“Anything we can do?” Sam asks.
“I got it covered,” he says. He raises one finger, as if he's a professor about to lecture. Then he gets distracted by a hangnail.
“There's a lot of pressure,” he says eventually. “I generally think of myself as an expert in handling pressure. But sometimes...this morning for example…it grows more crushing, and I find myself needing a pressure release. A valve.” He really does sound like a professor. Except stoned.
Sam smiles the same crooked smile that got me on the hiking trail in the first place.
“We understand exactly,” she says.
I glance at her again, wondering what made her need to skip school this morning. And I think about Lucas's word.
Crushing. I don't feel crushed, exactly. I feel like opposing forces are pulling at me.
Sam's fingers are resting lightly on my thigh, which is causing a different sort of pulling.
“So...your parents?” Sam asks Lucas.
Isaac is a high-school senior whose goal in life is to fly below the radar – to avoid notice and difficulties – both at home and especially at school. Isaac’s whole family tries to avoid notice, important since they live off the grid in the mountains of British Columbia and grow illegal pot.
Isaac and his older sister, Judith, have been home schooled until high school. Judith rebelled – demanding to be allowed to attend school in town. Their father provided a refitted school bus for her to live in that was parked on an orchard he owned in town. Isaac, having entered high school a few years later, drives into town from the family's isolated cabin each day. At school, Isaac seems to have managed to avoid notice by anyone except his art teacher – because of his exceptional talent for drawing and painting – and Lucas, whose locker has been next to Isaac's ("for alphabetical reasons") throughout high school. Lucas, an excellent student and local sports hero, has figured out that Isaac’s family grows marijuana and now gets a weekly bag from Isaac (incidentally providing Isaac a little cash he would not otherwise have). At home, Isaac tries to keep the peace by doing chores before they are needed or requested and keeping an eye out for hikers and other strangers who get too close to the family's crop.
The quiet life ends for Isaac the day he meets Sam on a trail near his family’s grow-op. Isaac’s job is to discourage the girl from continuing her hike. He mentions the possibility of bears. As if on cue, a bear appears. But it is one of a group of bears that live nearby and are habituated to Isaac’s family, and, when Isaac tells the bear – sternly – to go away, it does. Sam is impressed. They enjoy talking as they walk back to the campground where Sam’s hike began and where her father (who is later revealed to be a local RCMP officer) is parked. Isaac asks Sam not to say anything about the bear, and she promises not to. However, the next day at school, everyone greets Isaac as a hero.
Tanya Lloyd Kyi is an experienced author, as is demonstrated by her flowing, action-packed narrative. Her story introduces readers to a group of teens, each of them facing conflict with their parents. Isaac and Judith are trying to come to terms with the long-term implications of living on a grow-op with a quietly domineering father. Lucas is dealing with the pressure of trying to meet his father’s expectations, instead of his own desires. Sam is just trying to get her father’s attention any way she can. Though it is not her intention, it is Sam’s intervention in Isaac’s life that awakens him to the possibility of a life other than that he has so far experienced.
Isaac has had little contact with anyone other than his sister, mother, father, and grandfather. When he meets Sam, he has no experience of how to have a relationship with a girl or anyone else at school. He hasn’t even realized that he smells strongly of bears and needs to have more clean clothes and to wash more often. Both Isaac and the reader have trouble deciding what Sam’s motives for her interest in “Zac” are. Does she really find him talented and attractive? Or is she choosing the young man most likely to drive her father crazy. The changes Sam produces in Isaac’s life also make him more aware of a true friendship developing between him and Lucas. He also takes a more careful look at his family, his sister’s situation (Judith is in an abusive relationship with a slightly older man), and his own desires for the future.
The story is absorbing and full of ethical issues for a teen discussion: Isaac’s family’s illegal activities, Sam’s behaviour to Isaac, Judith’s unfortunate abusive relationship, the family’s having raised a bunch of bears as pets and what will happen to the bears when the family moves, how having participated in dealing with the bears would affect Isaac, Isaac’s decision to make his own way or continue living with his own family. Also, when Judith returns home, it frees Isaac to leave the family. Isaac is offered funds that enable him to pursue his artistic ambitions. Though Judith had some support from her father for her post-high school studies, she was not given the same financial freedom as Isaac. Why?
For some readers, there are other, more "technical" questions that may intrude on the narrative's flow. If the family has been truly off the grid, did the parents avoid registering the birth of their children and having their children vaccinated and, thereby, fail to acquire documents children must have in order to register for school? From the way the family lives, Isaac does not expect that they have money. How much money does the lawyer have tucked away? If Isaac is travelling to the US, is he getting a passport or trying to sneak across the border? Why didn’t the family access free health care for the dad’s bad back and the grandfather’s stroke?
These concerns notwithstanding, Prince of Pot's fast pace and narrative fluency, combined with an interesting setting and relationships, make for a successful tale.
Prior to her retirement, Rebecca King was the Library Support Specialist for the Halifax Regional School Board.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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