July 08, 2015

Cut Off

by Jamie Bastedo
Red Deer Press
340 pp.
Ages 12+
June 2015

From Guatemala to Calgary and to the Yukon, Cut Off takes the reader on a nerve-racking journey from exploitation to addiction and reclamation and finally to self-acceptance.  It's a uncertain ride, with lots of disquieting edges that may look like safe shores and tortuous currents that need to be navigated.   But the destination, self-acceptance, is always evident, though not necessarily easily tenable.

Cut Off starts in Guatemala where teen Indio McCracken lives a privileged life courtesy of his Canadian father's position as a mining executive.  Though the boy also lives with his Guatemalan mother, younger sister Sofi, Great Uncle Faustus and best friend and dog Loba, it is his father that controls everything for Indio.  Edgar McCracken's zealousness–that Indio become a world-famous classical guitarist–is relentless and has him dictating Indio's tutoring, booking his performances, restricting his computer access, and constructing a fully-loaded practise room in which Indio is locked for hours daily. But everything changes when Indio turns 14 and begins to attend the Xela British School twice a week where he finds refuge on the computer and in a blog he starts at www.CagedGuitarist.blogspot.com.  The freedom to share his music and his thoughts, however, is tempered with learning how his father's company has been exploiting and persecuting the local people.  A particularly terrifying event leads the family to pack up and head to Calgary.

With the nasty media attention regarding the mine, and with difficulties he experiences at his new high-school, Indio–now 16– finds the need to reinvent himself so he asks to be called Ian and starts a second blog, BEIN'canadIAN.blogspot.ca.  But a series of episodes at school and at home, and an unforeseen tragedy and horrific car accident indicates Indio cannot free himself from his tech devices.
They just didn't get it.  How could something that felt so good be so bad?  The Internet was buena medicina for me, right?  It took my mind off the pain, off the loneliness.  It fought my depression.
Made me somebody.
They'd see.
There was no stopping me now.
(pg. 193)
His family's response is to send him away to a wilderness-based rehab camp called Camp Lifeboat in the Yukon where the "campers" all suffer from some addiction or another.
Simply different poisons, same dead end. (pg. 210)
Through journaling, camping, and a 50-day canoe trip, Indio and the others are compelled to face the beast which they fear most.

Cut Off is a very full young adult novel.  There are the issues of exploitation and addiction and rehab and self-acceptance. There's tragedy across two countries and experiences in the big city, village and wilderness.  The characters include the indigenous peoples of both Canada and Guatemala, and the poor and very rich.  There's also a lot of self-examination, though not always enlightened, and complete oblivion to everything and everyone.  Jamie Bastedo packs a lot into Cut Off.

But, for me, the rampant exploitation, from the mine's impact on the Guatemalan people, to Indio's father's violent fervour regarding his son's musicianship, to Indio's dangerous overuse of his technology and Morris' bullying of Indio, is dismaying.  Compassion does not show up much in Cut Off–though the heart of a few individuals like Indio's Great Uncle Faustus offers some hope–but I guess that's the way Jamie Bastedo wrote it.  His sub-plots are persuasive, though perhaps somewhat incohesive.  And the duplicity and selfishness of a number of characters and the number of tragedies, including the death of several dogs, were hard for me to welcome.  But, Jamie Bastedo's writing is generally strong, allowing the reader to infer much, so perhaps I can attribute my perspective to recent health issues that have me seeking out more positive and inspiring stories.

That said, Cut Off is a worthwhile read as a cautionary tale of how focusing on one's own desires, irrespective of possible consequences on others, is jeopardous. And, given the landscape of the story, Cut Off takes the reader on an experience not soon forgotten.

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