Friday, April 22, 2011

UNLOCKED by Ryan Van Cleave

Poetry Tag continues with a book review of a new book of poetry connected to yesterday's book review.

Today’s tagline: A parallel novel in verse about teen life

Guest Reviewer: Marianne Follis

Featured Book: Van Cleave, Ryan G. 2011. Unlocked. Walker.

Marianne writes: In this terse novel in verse by first time young adult author Van Cleave, we are introduced to Andy, and he in turn introduces us to his life. Chapter headings are presented as character names, dates and sometimes as concepts like:


I try to be
who believes
in honesty

But the truth
is that I can’t
tell when
the world’s really
out to flatten me
or if it’s just me
my own damn life.

Two years
of anger therapy
(thanks for nothing,
Dr. Zigler)
and that’s all
I can say about
why my life’s
a twisted knot
the size of a fist.

My name is Andy.

I’m fourteen.

And I hate my life.

Some days I feel
so alone
that I might be
living inside
a shoebox
on the moon.

Some days
I don’t feel
at all.

For most 14 year olds, being an outcast in middle school is bad enough, but Andy’s father is the school janitor, “Mr. Clean,” so by default Andy is dubbed “Clean Junior” by his tormentors. When rumors surface that once popular, now reclusive, Blake, has brought a gun to school, Andy sees his chance to earn status with the popular kids. After “borrowing” his father’s all access keys and breaking into Blake’s locker late at night, Andy finds… nothing.

While his after hour antics win him no points with the cool crowd, it does create a turning point in Andy’s life. He now has a friend; someone to play World of Warcraft with, and hang out with after school. Little by little Blake opens up to Andy about the tragedy in his life and the anger in his heart: Blake’s father never came back from Iraq. Blake does have his dad’s gun though. Slowly the boys bond while shooting the breeze, and shooting targets.

As the anniversary of Blake’s father’s death approaches, the poems are titled with dates, building tension and quickening the pace. The story’s end leaves the reader wondering how things could have been different for both boys and where the line of guilt and innocence is drawn.

Van Cleave’s use of verse brings momentum to the story and allows the reader to quickly move, with Andy through the days and loneliness and anxiety.

While feelings of isolation, grief and depression are not easily understood, the reader may be confused on the course of action taken by these boys. Andy seems more depressed than angry and Blake is obviously grief stricken and lost in the wake of his father’s violent death. However, while the author states that the boys are angry, we really aren’t given an in-depth look into the roots or even outward displays of these emotions. How these events evolve into the idea of a school shooting seem to be a bit of a stretch.

That said, themes of bullying and gun violence are important ones and this title could serve as a vehicle for a classroom discussion.

Ryan G. Van Cleave is a public speaker, creative writing teacher and author of many books for adults, including his autobiographical Unplugged: My Journey Into the Dark World of Video Addiction (HCI, 2010). This is the author’s first book for teens.

Tomorrow’s tagline: A novel in poems about teens caught in a crime

[We’re heading down the homestretch of National Poetry Month—still time to get your copy of the e-book, PoetryTagTime, an e-book with 30 poems, all connected, by 30 poets, downloadable at Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle app for your computer, iPad or phone for only 99 cents. Grab it now.]

Image credit: PoetryTagTime;

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell and students © 2011. All rights reserved.

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