July 14, 2013

Touch

by Kim Firmston
James Lorimer & Co. Ltd.
978-1-4594-0371-0 (epub)
978-1-4594-0369-7 (pb)
101 pp.
Ages 13-18
2013

Most people would see having the magic touch -- finesse -- as a positive attribute, especially if used for charitable or beneficial needs.  If used to manipulate and sway others to your preferences, that same touch can be undesirable or shameful.

But sixteen-year-old Ethan is honestly impressed by his dad's talent to persuade everyone, whether at his IT security workplace or at home.  In fact, Ethan is eager to impress his father with his own skills in hacking, tech and engineering, hoping to emulate his father's success at age 19 winning a robotic competition.  He even tries to manipulate his girlfriend Maddie into cozying up to their competition, Antoine, to get a look at his plans.  Needless to say, Ethan soon learns he doesn't always demonstrate his dad's proficiency at enticing others to his will.

Though close to his father, Ethan is comfortable with his father's new wife and younger step-sister, Haley, and considers them his family.  But when Haley's attention-grabbing antics (e.g., cutting her long hair and dying it black with red tips; going Goth; having meltdowns) eclipse his successes and accolade-grabbing stunts, Ethan is less than compassionate about what may be troubling Haley.  Not surprising that when Haley tells her mother that Ethan's dad has been touching her inappropriately, Ethan does not believe her.

After his dad moves out without letting Ethan know, Ethan's confusion is exacerbated, having him wondering about his own place in the family and where his loyalty and trust should lie.  With his dad continuing to manipulate him to keep tabs on Haley and Mom, Ethan begins to see how control is not everything, especially when compassion, cooperation and compromise can achieve so much more.

Part of Lorimer's SideStreets series, Touch offers a contemporary story line, based on the issue of sexual abuse, in a hi-lo format i.e., high interest, low vocabulary.  While it is too predictable from the title and opening scenes that Haley is being sexually abused, Ethan's responses offer the perplexity needed to deepen the story.  While dealing with his own disbelief and conviction of his father's innocence, Ethan comes to see his father's manipulative techniques as selfish and detached, not admirable or effective.  With that change in perspective, Ethan is able to redirect the skills he was using to impress his father to expose him instead.  That twist in his purpose saves Ethan from his own narcissistic path and unexpectedly has him becoming a real big brother to Haley, protecting her as much as he can.

While the hi-lo format can restrict the story development and expression of characters, a good writer can augment the base story elements with enough details, secrets and innuendo to take a story from ordinary.  Personally I would have appreciated more evidence that Ethan could develop a change of heart, but Kim Firmston has a good solid plot here in Touch, adding Ethan's finesse with technology, to provide readers with greater substance on which to focus our story demands. 

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