September 11, 2013

The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley

by Jan Andrews
Great Plains Teen Fiction
200 pp.
Ages 12-15

This year in January I had the pleasure of introducing Jan Andrews at the Ontario Library Association's SuperConference as winner of the 2012 Silver Birch Express Award for her book When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: the Tales of Ti-Jean (Groundwood, 2011), stories starring Quebec’s traditional folktale hero. I emphasized that Jan Andrews is foremost a storyteller, able to weave tales in text and spoken word for all audiences, sharing cultures and wisdom, entertaining and teaching. While her first foray into young adult fiction may not be what many would judge as a storyteller's story, The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley is very much a tale in that it teaches, it exposes, it shares, and it entertains. It opens one's eyes. Isn't that what every good story should do?

Kyle McGinley is a fifteen-year-old boy who, on the way to his latest foster home, makes a drastic decision that gives him a feeling of control, something he has lacked since his mother died and his abusive father abandoned him at age 8.
"I, Kyle McGinley, have given up on talk of any kind." (pg. 7)
The talk he gives up is the out-of-his-mouth kind, starting with his newest social worker and his new foster parents, Jill and Scott, consultants that work out of their rural home. But Kyle still does a lot of talking in his head with two significant voices that cohabit there: his father's bold and italicized abusive comments, and the helpful, encouraging italicized suggestions of a scientist he calls Ingen.

Strangely, on a large property with a barn, stream, trails, cattle, a deep pit, and a swamp of lifeless trees, Kyle admits to himself that he's "never been less frightened in my life." (pg. 66) That is, until Jill and Scott hear via the social worker that Kyle's dad has engaged a lawyer to help him reconnect with Kyle. That sends Kyle into a tailspin that has him twisting both with the memories of his father's abuse and with the chance to have a father in his life again. Jill and Scott seem to be pretty cool, letting him sleep out in the loft of the barn, making a space for himself, driving the tractor and then letting him care for a little crow that has been physically abused and abandoned too. But Kyle barely knows them and he's been been through enough types of parenting –abusive, negative, negligent, excessive– to anticipate their rejection of him. Sadly, Kyle doesn't recognize caring.

Like Kyle, the little crow whom he names Lady C is just an avian version of the teen: frightened, flightless by abuse, abandoned and speechless, though the thoughts are clearly there. His heart goes out to Lady C, bringing her into his loft and his life, engaging with her in ways that he cannot with others, yet. Jan Andrews draws on the parallels between Lady C and Kyle, and Kyle and Jill, using expressive dialogue (I know it seems strange considering Kyle doesn't speak aloud) to draw you into Kyle's head and heart. And the uncertainty about the issues with which Jill seems to be dealing and about Kyle's dad's potential for positive change will keep readers wondering and apprehensive and hopeful.

Jan Andrews gives Kyle a distinct voice that stirs and startles, never letting the reader completely understand how the boy thinks. Fortunately, without wrapping up the story with a predictably saccharine ending, Jan Andrews allows Kyle to find, in his own time, his voice, a home and himself.

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