Thursday, September 26, 2013
The Chaos: a review
Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, copyright 2012, 256 pages
A review in 10 words (or thereabouts): What happens when the mess of high school meets Caribbean folklore.
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.
Scotch lives two lives: her cool girl, dance team life at school, and her proper, regimented life at home. Desperate to get away from her parents, Scotch has big plans to move out with her older brother away from their strict rules. Along with her struggles at home, Scotch is also hiding two secrets. One, there are strange horse heads following her around, horse heads only she can see; and two, dark, splotchy tar marks are showing up on her skin, creeping across her body. When her parents go away for the weekend, these secrets take a new turn and the world of myth and reality merge into a terrifying climax.
I was going to do my usual "Awesome" vs. "Not So Awesome" review, but I have no idea where to start with this particular book. I know that the fantasy elements in Hopkinson's book are based in Caribbean folklore, but many of the images are so unexpected and confusing that I could never wrap my head around what was going on. There was no context...no base in reality to help me gadge, especially with the book set in Toronto. Does that particular area of Canada have a large Caribbean population? The characters attempt to use Caribbean slang and accents, so I assume she is saying there's quite a large population.
Apparently just not my cup of tea. I do appreciate the multicultural aspects, and I always stand behind storytellers who bring in cultural mythology and folklore. This stories are informative and entertaining all at the same time. This one just didn't spark a chord with me.
But if you like whimsical, strange, or chaotic...if you're already familiar with Caribbean folklore, give Nalo Hopkinson's The Chaos.