by Lesley Choyce
Red Deer Press
Lesley Choyce has a new voice. In general terms, it's novel in verse. Specifically, it's the voice of Jeremy Stone.
Jeremy Stone is a sixteen-year-old whose story begins with his return to school after a three-year silence. Voice silence, that is. (He was always being told that he was too loud, too rude, too curious. So he shut up.) Though he learned from his grandfather–a survivor of the residential school system–never to live in the past, the baggage that Jeremy carries is critical to his present. Jeremy had been close to his grandfather, Old Man, when they lived on the reserve. Old Man has since passed, though his spirit regularly visits Jeremy and advises him on all matters of the heart and mind. Jeremy's father suffers with the black dogs of depression and is now living Out West, cleaning on oil rigs and making money, though he always seems to be running out of minutes on his cell phone. Jeremy lives in town with his mother, who has kicked most of her drug addictions except for cigarettes and alcohol, but still has a few demons to wrestle.
Though pegged fairly quickly as a boy of First Nations heritage, Jeremy tries to stay under the radar, often quiet still, rarely engaging with others. But the flicking of a paper clip at Jeremy's cheek by Thomas Heaney brings Jeremy some attention, especially after he capably wins against Thomas a.k.a. Paper Clip in a phys ed wrestling match. Caitlan, a girl with "Indian eyes", tells Jeremy about a boy she'd loved, Jenson Hayes, who committed suicide after jerks such as Thomas Heaney broke him down with their emotional assaults. When Jeremy learns Caitlan is cutting herself and thinking of joining Jenson, he realizes that he must make things right, and that does not include revenge. Through his spiritual interactions with Old Man and others, Jeremy finds a way to help others and ultimately help himself as well.
Lesley Choyce often takes on mature issues, even discomforting ones, in his young adult books, from life on the street in Last Chance (Lorimer, 2009), to grief in Shoulder the Sky (Dundurn, 2002), imprisonment in The Book of Michael (Red Deer Press, 2008) and physical bullying in Gone Bad (Lorimer, 2011). But in Jeremy Stone, Lesley Choyce has taken on the voice of a First Nations teen and channelled the issues of dysfunctional families, bullying, grief, spirituality and suicide from his perspective. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, but Lesley Choyce achieves this with resounding success, never making the reader believe that anyone but Jeremy Stone, with his own strengths and weaknesses, has shared these thoughts and feelings.
Novels in free verse have to say a lot without a lot of words at their disposal. For that reason, Jeremy Stone is a fast read. But it is also one that must be contemplated in depth. In all novels in verse, the reader must read between the spaces and the lines and the letters to see beyond that which the author chooses to share up front. Jeremy Stone, the book, is very much like Jeremy Stone, the teen: there is so much more than the words. The richness is realized by those who take the trouble to see beyond the cover and the obvious.