Book 3: THE CHAOS, Nalo Hopkinson
Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she's the perfect daughter, at school she's provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can't be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she's ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that's begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.
A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance—because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.
Actually, that's kind of helpful because I don't think it's great as descriptions go, though it's easier to criticize than to write one myself. Starting from the top, Scotch (also known as Sojourner, which is such a wonderful name) is hardly the perfect daughter; she may hide things like the clothes she *really* wears at school, and she may have hidden the fact that she was going out with a white guy, but that's not quite 'perfect'. Provocatively sassy is an odd one, but I think the third is just a bit off: I'd read this description, and read Hopkinson discussing it, and expected Scotch to feel more obviously as if she didn't belong. In the book, she gets grief about not looking like her darker brother, but she's very able to deal with it. And she simply doesn't *take* the grief about her Jamaican accent not being right or the like (from some of the kids at school).
Anyway, the Chaos is the name given to all the weird stuff that happens, both in Toronto and around the world. And it's seriously weird, which in a way is all I feel like saying about it - it's Seriously. Weird. If you don't like random surreal things happening for no reason, this is probably not the book for you. I really liked it, but I'm not at all sure that I'd be able to justify it if I were writing a real review of the book. It's a bit too random and there's a bit of heavy metaphorical layer to the randomness that I'm not sure totally works. But this isn't a real review - hurrah!
Anyway, the Chaos is now dealt with! And there's a really interesting YA story there too, though it's not at all as simple as "Teen of Mixed Racial Identity Comes to Terms with her Identity". But the thing about that YA story is that Scotch is a real jerk at times, and her repeated "Oh no, she didn't!" moments got to be a bit annoying. The first one is quite neat though. She's just dealt with a guy in a bar (her brother snuck her in so she could hear him perform his poetry) who's being all flirty until he sees her brother. When Scotch tells the guy it's her brother rather than her boyfriend, he says ALL the awful things about how they can't be related, really, and then goes on to say the most hideously awful thing about how she could even 'pass as white'. She's duly disgusted, but tells him off with (alas, probably practiced) ease. And shortly after, she's talking to a girl, Punum, who's just performed, and assumes it's her first time performing (she's in a wheelchair). Punum calls her on it asking if it's because she hasn't seen "a chick doing spoken word, or a crip doing it?" When Punum says that Scotch can't use 'crip', Scotch says she gets it, because it's 'like me being black. There's names we can call ourselves that other people better not.' The way Scotch understands her own situation perfectly, and has very much missed that people with a disability should get the SAME RESPECT, is really well done. But next page she starts to realise that Punum is gay and thinks "Great. I had a big old dyke stepping to me. Or wheeling to me. As if." ::smacks Scotch::
And then she falls into the trap of thinking she's so awesome for defending Punum (verbally) when Punum has gone out to take on the police who have been beating up a guy in a wheelchair. But right after defending her, she acts in exactly the same way, if down a notch, by assuming that Punum can't possibly make her way across town without Scotch there to hold her hand, despite it being perfectly obvious that Punum is more than able. Furthermore, her thought is that Punum should be 'grateful' to her for the defending, instead of being 'so mean'.
Aaaand then, a short time later, she says the inexcusable thing: about how she'll be the only one (of her threesome of friends) who's 'normal' if another one of the three is gay as well. (Her relationship with Ben, who'd been dating guys for a while, had seemed so lovely, and HE is so lovely, that this comes as even more of a smack in the face.)
There's something slightly odd going on about sexuality and gender already though, and I'm finding it a bit hard to pinpoint. At the start of the book, the threesome has broken up (with Ben staying friends with Scotch) because, she says, Gloria is trying to 'steal' her boyfriend. Actually, her ex-boyfriend. Actually, the ex SHE dumped, quite coldly. (She had some reasons, which have to do with the weird, but still.) But even though Scotch only admits later that she actually dumped the bf, and oh, yes, realises that Glory wasn't interested in him anyway, and she and Ben have both stopped being friends with Glory over it, there's never quite the acknowledgment of how horribly unfair she's been, and how hurtful it must have been to Glory. I found that a bit off, even though Scotch does learn a lot of things, including about her own bad behaviour as she goes on. (I loved Ben's trying to get them to stop fighting, muttering "Two girls fighting over a guy. How original." Also Glory's calling her on the 'trying to steal' line - "Like a boy is a candy bar you carry around in your purse with no will of him own.") There's also a degree of oddness in the whole 'slut' thing. (The book's term, not mine!) There's a little bit of expositional dialogue between Ben and Scotch near the beginning, which is rather awkward in trying to set up the double standard about girls being 'sluts' and boys being 'studs', but Scotch still seems more than a bit ready to call another girl a slut, given that she was bullied so horribly at her previous school about it (and just because she was bustier than the other girls).
So, I suppose the thing I'd really love to discuss with friends is whether Scotch's awful behaviour in the ableist, homophobic senses is used well enough by the text to justify being there. Because, honestly, it's quite painful. And I'd also love to know what people make of the final outcome of her whole transformation into the 'Tar Baby' thing. Me, I'm not quite certain I see that as a great resolution to her pre-transformed self.
Right, off to feed dogs (while listening to A Confusion of Princes on audiobook), so no more time for wittering about this book, fascinating though it is! That's the book, not the wittering.