April 05, 2023

Standing on Neptune

Written by Valerie Sherrard
160 pp.
Ages 13+
April 2023

Brooke Wells's story begins with an important line:

…this is about what happened (pg. 1)

But the seventeen-year-old explains that it’s only a moment in her story, not her whole story. It's less than a week, in fact, but a monumental one of a secret, hidden beneath the facade of being a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a friend and a classmate. It's a moment and one that may, or may not, change her life.
x + y = -5 is the equation Brooke envisions for her situation on the Monday of her story. What this means is she and her boyfriend Ryan had sex and now her period is five days late. Standing in Neptune is primarily her story, told in free verse, as she comes to terms with what it means, who to tell, and what to do. While she grapples with the shock and enormity of the possibility of a pregnancy, Brooke is almost frozen in place, telling only Ryan and only in the briefest of terms. She sees his panic, his anger, his fear, and even hope, and, instead of supporting each other, Brooke becomes more aloof and distant. 

Her bestie Emma knows something is up, but Brooke lies, worried that Emma may let her secret slip. Brooke's nine-year-old brother Kevin can also see that she is distracted, but she denies it and lies to him as well. Her thoughts are her only support, though she finds a convenient distraction in a science project on Neptune. As she learns about the frozen planet, she finds parallels to her own situation, like how it was detected mathematically and what is visible and not visible.
Our shared truth, I suspect, is that
it too has secrets, hidden beneath
what can be seen.      (pg.79)
Like Neptune, with so much more to it than the obvious, Brooke is more than her relationships with others. She is more than Ryan's girlfriend or Emma's friend. She is holding in a secret that might impact her whole life. Or will it? The frozen blue planet of Neptune with its orbiting moons is easily recognizable but, like Brooke, there is much beneath the surface that is unknown. And, until she knows the truth, i.e., is she pregnant or not, she is frozen with inaction, with hesitancy to share, and projecting a facade that all is normal.
Perhaps I am simply frozen in place, afraid of
facing things, of
getting it wrong.      (pg. 99)
Novels in free verse are one of my favourite genres, packing so much emotion and storytelling in few but well-chosen words, structured for meaning. Valerie Sherrard, whose earlier novel in verse Counting Back from Nine (2013) was nominated for a Governor General's Literature Award for children's text, knows how to use the genre to tell gripping stories. She takes us into the thoughts of teens as they contend with issues of teen pregnancy, shaky friendships, blended families, insecurities, and self-awareness. There's a lot going on in Brooke's head, more than she reveals to others, and Valerie Sherrard lets us hear Brooke's thoughts. Though Ryan's point of view is occasionally shared in excerpts of prose, it is Brooke we hear. It's her perspective that is paramount in Standing on Neptune. Whether she is pregnant or not, or right or wrong in her choices is irrelevant. They are hers. And as she studies Neptune and sees herself as a lone planet with moons that orbit her, perhaps someday being torn apart by her gravitational force, Brooke still knows she's part of something far greater.

No comments:

Post a Comment