January 09, 2014

Totally Unrelated

by Tom Ryan
Orca Book Publishers
120 pp.
Ages 11-14

Today a student at school asked me for a book that wasn't too long and had a bit of romance and a fairly straightforward, contemporary plot.  Any of the titles in Orca's new Limelights series would fit this bill perfectly, including Totally Unrelated, which I intend to take in for this student tomorrow.

Fifteen-year-old Neil is part of The Family McClintock, a traditional Celtic musical group made up of his parents, his Gran, older brother Shamus, older sister Kathy, twins Molly and Maura, and younger brother Johnny. All of them are multi-talented, playing an assortment of instruments, or singing, or step- and Highland dancing.  That is, except for the anomalous Neil who only plays guitar.

When his best friend, Bert, suggests that they enter the Deep Cove Talent Show, Neil is initially unconvinced that they could pull an effective band together.  But after a church fundraiser at which Neil meets Sandy, a teen staying at a local summer cottage rental with her Gran and young brother Beast (a.k.a. Bailey), and learns she can play guitar and sing, Neil is convinced it could work.  In fact, it gives Neil the practice that makes him a better performer with The Family McClintock and gives him the opportunity to try his hand at singing, something at which he doesn't think he can excel.

While Dad is supportive of Neil participating in the Deep Cove Talent Show with his friends, the expectation is that The Family McClintock should be his priority, as it is for everyone in the family.  The conflict arises when Neil learns that the talent show is on the same night as the family's big gig opening for the Vince Beach Band in Halifax, four hours drive away.

While most readers will never have the kind of conflict that Neil experiences, courtesy of his musical family, there will be that critical time in their lives when being with the family begins to clash with times with their friends and times when they'd like to be more independent.  Performing as The Family McClintock may be financially worthwhile, helping to put the kids through university, but it is major commitment, particularly time-wise with family members only getting Thursday off regularly.  Along with Kathy who is in university and considering taking a course that would take her away from Nova Scotia, Neil has a legitimate grievance, and one for which his family is not prepared. Still, Tom Ryan has created Neil as a good kid who goes along with his family and tries to work within their restrictive schedule, but he's still a teen who is interested in girls (or rather one particular girl) and looking to distinguish himself in a Totally Unrelated way.

I appreciate the lack of overwhelming angst soaked in despondency and meanness that the teen vs. family scenario could produce.  Tom Ryan presents Neil's situation and solution as viable scenarios to handing these awkward and potentially family-ripping circumstances.  Totally Unrelated is a positive reflection of how a teen can share and extend his own interests without jeopardizing the family dynamics.  Think of Totally Unrelated as a how-to of letting your child become more independent without pushing them away or losing them, and allowing them to become successful adults who don't need to rely on their parents to create lives for them. Seems Totally Unrelated would be a worthwhile read for parents and children alike.

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