4 out of 4 stars
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The current crop of students of Collier Secondary School, among them Melissa or Liz, suddenly find themselves confronting change occasioned by a renovation at their school. This is especially hard for them as they have been distributed among other secondary schools in the area, and by this happenstance, breaking up established friendship groups. Liz who is in her final year is, however, in for a pleasant surprise when she discovers that her best friend, Jan, will be in the same school as her. R.S. Jeffrey High is unlike her former school, though. Most notably, it has the worst academic record in all of Abalone Lake; and on her first day in school, she becomes a victim of an incident of school bullying. The boy who comes to her aid, James Macewan, would, later, become her boyfriend.
Like any coming-of-age story, Abalone by J.G. MacLeod follows Liz and her friends as they first become conscious of the attention from boys to the time they cross over to young adulthood. Liz starts off as a shy girl who fends for herself early due to her parents' estrangement. Her dad's bitterness in losing his wife to another man would cause him not to exercise good parental control over his only child and daughter. This fact would later play a predominant influence over Liz's formative years and provide valuable advice to parents on how not to bring up their teenage children. James upbringing, on the other hand, mirrors closely that of Liz. When Liz's friend, Jan, gets wind of a plan where Liz will tutor James, her response is not only terse but summarizes the character of James neatly: "That guy is bad news. Everyone says so. He's got to be, like, twenty-one and still in high school!"
This budding and impermissible love affair between Liz and James creates tension in the story and makes the reader eager to know at every point in the narrative what will happen next, or what kind of impishness the youthful characters will be engaged in next. A memorable moment for me was when Jan organized for her friends (Liz and their dates, Reese and Coltyn), the first night out at the club, even though they couldn't yet pass for mature adults. A defining moment for Liz would be when her drink got spiked. The author's tone is impassioned, as she explores the feelings of two uninhibited youth from broken homes who have nothing but each other to lean on. James' mother, for example, suffers from Intermittent Explosive Disorder and often assaults both James and his younger brother, Peter, who suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). James in such moments seems to find respite in the loving arms of Liz. Unfortunately for Liz, however, she suffers the brunt of James' frequent and compulsive fits of violent behavior.
The author's writing style and first-person point of view allow her to immediately connect with her potential young readers. For instance, when describing her action scenes, she uses short sentences, full of verbs that give the scene energy. An example would be a line from the scene where Liz and an admirer, Martyn, had to perform karaoke together: "He joined me with the chorus and we were both laughing as we sang. When we finished, he pretended to play the air guitar during the next musical interlude and I laughed giddily; I could feel the effects of the alcohol buoying me up." In addition, she employs text messages in her dialogue, which is quite in line with today's texting generation.
The novel has explored the themes of violence in relationships quite well. Additionally, the author resolves quite nicely the tension that has been building up in her story as the relationship between James and Liz unfolds. I felt the ending was warm, realistic and not rushed. Other themes explored by the author include rape, bullying, suicide, violence against children and alcoholism. To the author's credit, the novel seems to be professionally edited. I only came across one typo error and a number of instances of omitted commas that were not distracting to my enjoyment of the book. For this reason, I rate the novel 4 out of 4 stars. I proceed to recommend the novel to secondary school students, young adults and parents. A word of caution, though, is that the novel has explicit sexual scenes and draws attention to incidents of violence to children and women, so the novel will only be appropriate to a mature audience.
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