May 29, 2012

Way to Go

by Tom Ryan
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-459800779 (pb)
978-1-459800793  (ebook)
224 pp.
Ages 12+
April, 2012

Discovering who you are is a common theme of YA books (sadly as well as of adult fiction and even non-fiction.) In that sense, Way to Go could be seen as a coming-of-age novel in which Danny, 17, searches for his niche amongst his friends, Jay and Kierce, and for his future, in Cape Breton or not.  But trying to identify your sexual orientation can be awkward when you have a friend like Kierce who has hundreds of rules about getting the girl.  It’s especially problematic if you’re unsure whether you want to get the girl or be with a guy instead.  Still thinking about what he wants and who he is has Danny feeling pressured by his Dad who is adamant that Danny go to university.  Working in the Alberta oil fields after the bottling plant closed in Deep Cove, Dad is determined that Danny's employment options will not be limited as his own were.

So starts the summer of 1984, the summer before Danny’s final year in high school.  Resolved that he will not waste it, his mother arranges for him to work for a former classmate, Denise, who has returned to Deep Cove to convert the popular but rundown Burger Shack into an upscale restaurant named The Sandbar.

Focused on his job at helping The Sandbar get up and running, Dan puts aside his worries and finds himself enjoying the camaraderie of his new acquaintances: Denise, who left Deep Cove right after high school; JP, the amazing chef from Montreal; Lisa Walsh who has come from New York City to spend the summer with her aunt; and classmate Maisie who is hired when more wait staff is needed.   

It's the beautiful, sophisticated Lisa that has Dan enamoured and thinking about his feelings for girls. Though only 17, Lisa seems so worldly, coming from New York City with a trove of life experiences Danny cannot even imagine. It is as they become good friends, driving around after work in her old car Bessie and listening to her amazingly diverse collection of mixed tapes, that Danny first considers checking out his feelings for girls on Lisa.  Though his best friend, Jay, who has issues of his own to worry about (failing his exams and jeopardizing his school year), doesn't press Dan about girls,  Kierce is relentless about hooking Danny up with one girl or another and his careless comments about gay people put Danny in an even more precarious quandary.

Meanwhile, with the Sandbar successfully up and running, Dan's skills as a dishwasher are being severely challenged.  Fortunately Denise and JP are very astute, recognizing Dan's fascination with watching JP cook could better suit him for the role of sous chef.  Here Danny finds his forté, prepping for JP and learning about cooking from a master, and considering a culinary institute after high school.

For Dan and Lisa, as well as The Sandbar, Dan's Dad, Jay and Kierce, the Way to Go seems to be forward.  Taking the first step is the difficult one but it's the only Way to Go.  Whether it is sharing hidden truths or the anticipation of decision-making or worries about the unknown, the characters of Way to Go only find growth and learning (as well as relief) by going forward.  Tom Ryan easily finds the voices of the teens, male and female, gay and straight, as well as the adults with whom they interact, as if he has been all those people and speaks from experience.  It's by taking bits and pieces from all of them that Danny comes to recognize that he needn't worry so much about who he would become but just be who he is now.  Life isn't a static enterprise that needs to be prodded to happen.  Even deciding to remain in Deep Cove would never ensure any constancy, just a permanent locale.  By choosing to take those first steps, Dan has chosen the direction of his progress and fortunately it is forward.


  1. This sounds great: I've added it to my list. Thanks!

  2. When I was a kid and my dad worked on the rigs a lot of the Maritimers who worked with him couldn't afford to go home often, so they would stay at ours on their 4 days off. I wondered what their kids were doing in their house a the time. I guess this book is a good answer to that.

    1. Probably not much different than teens anywhere else: just trying to figure out who they are. But, I'm sure that, when the dads came home after an extended absence, it would be similar to the awkwardness of Dan's Dad when he came home from Alberta.