Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dance Hall Road by Marion Douglas

Quirky, eccentric, oddballs... these are the kind of people you will encounter in Dance Hall Road. It is set in small-town Ontario in 1969-1970.

Adrian, the central character, is a teenager assigned to a special education class. He isn't dumb, but his mind works differently from most. I enjoyed getting into his view of the world. Randy, his best friend, is in the same class. Randy has epilepsy and obsessive compulsive tendencies. (He lines up coloured gumdrops to make his favourite NHL team win, for example.) Cheryl is Adrian's girlfriend for part of a year, until a tragedy occurs.

The exact nature of the tragedy, how it happened, and the many satellite and parallel betrayals and ramifications are the substance of the book. Anyone who has felt misunderstood (is there anyone who hasn't?) will find someone with whom to identify. The themes include bullying, the desire to escape the scrutiny of a fishbowl existence, family dysfunction, love and desire, vengefulness and the human capability for self-delusion. The language is so evocative that I kept stopping to mark passages. Calgary author Douglas has expert control of multiple storylines, interweaving them in a leisurely pace to a hopeful conclusion.

This adult novel will appeal to older teens who enjoy literary coming-of-age stories. Martha Brooks, John Green, Marian Toews and Camilla Gibb have similarities in their work.

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