November 02, 2017

Prince of Pot

Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Groundwood Books
216  pp.
Ages 13+
September 2017

I live in the middle of a forest.  On a grow-op. With bears.  And I get shot at on my way home. (pg. 61)
This is definitely living on the edge.  Isaac Mawson's family has been keeping a marijuana grow-op for forty years, starting with Isaac's grandfather Walt who is now debilitated by a stroke.  Their rustic lifestyle includes a cabin with few amenities and a quintet of bears as companions and homeschooling until Isaac and his older sister Judith reached Grade 8. But, though he's in town regularly for school–he's in his final year–and for the grow's supplies, and to see his sister who'd been desperate to leave, Isaac has always found solace in the woods, as well as his artwork.
Once we're in the trees, my lungs expand.  I suppose most people relax when they open their front door and smell dinner cooking.  For me, it's as I step into these hemlocks. (pg. 51)
Then, on one of his routine scouting expeditions, he meets Sam Ko, a new student at his high school and Isaac is smitten.  Sam is a big personality with lots of grit and guts and a flair for drama, on stage and in life.  Too soon he's crushing on the sixteen-year-old and she's bringing him more attention than he wants, bragging about his interactions with a bear (it was the lovely tame Hazel, a bear his father had rescued) and dragging him to her home and parties and sharing his special places with her friends.  And then he learns her dad is a RCMP corporal.  Isaac is torn between having Sam in his life and keeping his family and their lifestyle safe from attention, especially of the law enforcement variety.

Tanya Lloyd Kyi may be better known for her numerous books of middle-grade non-fiction (e.g., Canadian Girls Who Rocked the World, Whitecap Books, 2011; 50 Underwear Questions, Annick Press, 2011; Eyes and Spies, Annick, 2017) but her collection of teen fiction is growing.  Prince of Pot is her fourth YA book and Tanya Lloyd Kyi capably tackles typical teen issues like first loves, grief, and independence with less common ones of pot grow-ops, teen pregnancy, and dyslexia, grabbing her readers with the familiar and the unusual.  Tanya Lloyd Kyi astutely recognizes that for some the atypical is the familiar, and by writing about these unusual circumstances, she's actually letting many teens see themselves in her writing.  Isaac's situation of living in the woods and helping with his family's grow may seem foreign to many of us but, you can bet, somewhere there is a young person who knows that life, those fears and restrictions of living outside of the law. But there's another who knows the dangers of habituating wild animals such as bears, and another who is infatuated with another and doesn't know how to reconcile the conflict of being with that person and the life they want to or need to live.  This is what works in Prince of Pot.  Tanya Lloyd Kyi makes readers completely sympathetic to Isaac's life with his family and the grow and even his actions which can be criminal or gut-wrenching or wholly innocent.  While my heart broke at a turn of events that should never, ever happen in real life, I could see how the story was leading to that moment.  I know Prince of Pot is just fiction but I suspect somewhere someone is living this kind of life.  I can only hope that, while we enjoy the book as an entertaining read, this story might provide guidance to living well, both within the family and independently, as well as within the law and outside of it, if that so happens.

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