September 16, 2012

Ink Me: Seven The Series

by Richard Scrimger
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-4598-0016-8
224 pp.
Ages 10+
Release date October 10, 2012

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy

Anticipation for Orca's upcoming Seven The Series has been growing since first announced earlier in the year and its enticing book trailer released in February.  If Ink Me, just one of the seven books set for simultaneous release on October 10, 2012, is any indicator, all young readers will be hooked instantly.

Bunny (a.k.a. Bernard) is just one of seven grandsons who, upon the death of their grandfather, receive a letter and instructions about a task to perform.  At 15, Bunny is the youngest of the grandsons but he may be the most challenged, living with a mental disability.  Regardless, Bunny is a very astute young man, understanding far more than many, even if Bunny believes that,
"they all reddy no Im a dummy." (pg. 3)
And Ink Me is all about how people, places, objects, situations - everything - are perceived and how these perceptions, right or wrong or misunderstood, affect everything else.

Bunny's task is to go to a particular tattoo parlour where they have been instructed to give him a specific tattoo.  The tattoo of the number 15 with a candle doesn't strike Bunny as anything special or too unusual; after all, he turned 15 on his most recent birthday.  But, the reader soon realizes, even if Bunny does not, that the tattoo that he sports indicates that he is part of the 15 Street gang and that he has made one kill.

When Bunny defends a skinny gang member, Jaden, from a beating by a member of a rival gang, the Angels, he is introduced to other members of 15 at the gym where they hang out.  Being white, Bunny is an oddity amongst the gang but his tattoo and surprising knowledge, albeit naively, of gang members with whom 15 is making a deal, gives him some credibility.  For the first time, Bunny is enjoying the camaraderie of friends, particularly Jaden.  Moreover, Morgan, a former pro fighter who now runs the gym, recognizes that Bunny could be a great fighter, with his fast reflexes and the moves his grandfather had taught him, and Morgan starts training him.

Although enjoying the benefits of his new friendships, Bunny also must withstand the negatives associated with being a part of 15, though he does not always recognize these drawbacks as such.  Even after being hauled away with the gang by the police and interrogated about "the deal" and later chased and shot at by a rival gang, Bunny continues to see everything as a new experience and himself under the care of his friends.  The line between the good guys and the bad guys continues to get blurred for Bunny as the deal between 15 and two other gangs is brokered.

Richard Scrimger, one of my favourite Canadian authors, is brilliant at telling a story without any lessons creeping in to weigh down the plot; that is, until the last few pages of the book are turned.  Readers will be too engrossed in the upshot of Bunny's honesty and incomprehension to realize that Ink Me exposes the vulnerability of perceptions to misinterpretation.  Whether it be the tattoo that marks Bunny as a gang member, or Jaden acting one way but in reality being someone else, or how guns are bad except when they're useful, these matters are all vulnerable to mis-perception.  Even Bunny's mom, a philosophy professor, has a hard time believing what Bunny tells her, instead reading situations as she chooses or as she is accustomed.  Though writing as Bunny must have been an arduous task for Richard Scrimger, as the text is so laden with spelling and grammatical mistakes, the author provides a real example of the dangers of "misreading."  I had to remind myself constantly that "no" in Bunny's text is "know" for me, and that I had to read carefully in order that I not let my prejudices alter the text's meaning.  Ink Me is a brilliant story, less about gangs and tattoos than about our relationships with others and the roles misunderstanding and perspective play in securing or destroying the integrity of those connections.

2 comments:

Richard Scrimger said...

Fantastic stuff! Good to hear from someone who "gets it."

HelenK said...

Thanks for commenting. It's always nice to know that my review isn't totally off the mark.

And thanks for "Ink Me." I think it's fantastic stuff too(as do the Grade 6 students to whom their teacher is reading it at my school)!