February 10, 2012

The Taming

by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten
Doubleday Canada
229 pp.
Ages 13-17

If all the world's a stage, then high school provides the acting classes for life. Few teens have the confidence or wherewithal to be themselves; most take on roles they believe will make them popular or celebrated or conspicuous.  Not Katie.  She's happy being relatively invisible, enjoying the company of her two friends: brilliant, rich and nonconformist Lisa, and emo-boy, goth-looking Travis.  But everything changes when Katie gets the lead role in her drama class' production of  The Taming of the Shrew.  Not only does Katie enjoy the acting, but guys are starting to notice an attractive spark in her when on-stage. In fact, a dashing new student, Evan, whose familiarity with the play earns him the role of Petruchio, sees something captivating in Katie, asking her out.

The Taming's chapters alternate between Katie's voice and that of Evan, sharing different perspectives of their relationship. Living in subsidized housing with a single mother whose goal it is to capture a man, Katie has enjoyed anonymity, only sharing herself with Lisa and Travis.  But now, enjoying Evan's avid attention and her first dating experience, Katie has difficulties balancing her former life and friends with Evan's wishes.  It is evident, from Evan's entries, that he left his last school under negative circumstances, that he abhors his father, a jet-setting businessman, and that he carefully calculates every move involving Katie.  How their two lives intertwine is neither unexpected nor universal.

In a twisted contemporary version of The Taming of the Shrew, Katie is neither a shrew nor in need of being tamed.  However, Evan's knowledge of relationships is highly influenced by his parents' and his father's words and actions, whether he consciously chooses to follow them or not.  As such, although he seems to truly care for Katie, Evan's actions are focused on manipulating her to think and act according to his wishes, ultimately forcing her to make dangerous choices that threaten her sense of self.

Those readers who choose to read this book solely for its romance will not see the subtext that exists for most relationships.  Eric Walters and Teresa Toten meld their writing to bring the personal nature of any liaison with the challenges of understanding and relating to others.  Juxtaposing Shakespeare's tale of a strong woman subjugated by a suitor with Katie and Evan's contemporary dating situation, Eric Walters and Teresa Toten demonstrate that relationships through the ages may differ in context but the bases are essentially the same.  Relationships can be grounded in respect, trust and caring, or in false impressions, abuse and inequality.  The hope is that those who find themselves in superficial romances with private abuses find the strength and support to choose different roles as Katie is fortunate to do.

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