In my experience, it’s rare to discover a young adult novel in which the characters are allowed to think, act, and speak without censure. Even though the fictional characters may be on the cusp of adulthood, the powers that be (editors, publishers, reviewers) sometimes argue that said teens lack credibility if their words and deeds are “too mature.” As both a writer and a mother (who has seen her offspring through their teens) I absolutely disagree—in fact, in literature I feel there’s often too much pandering toward the youth-as-innocents argument—and thus it was refreshing to meet the intelligent, articulate, and not-so-innocent crew in Burnaby, BC writer Diane Tucker’s first novel, His Sweet Favour.
Tucker, who has also published two poetry collections, delivers an atmospheric story about loyalty, love, and loss. It’s gritty, it’s imaginative (ie: there is an element of telepathy between characters), and it speaks to the kaleidoscoping emotions that people of any age experience in times of great transition, while asking the intriguing question: Can things be too good?
The story revolves around Favour and her four closest friends, all of whom are actors who aspire to form their own theatre company. It’s 1982. Grade Twelve. Vancouver. Tucker begins to establish characterization by describing the characters’ different pierced ears, or lack thereof: “ … Rick wouldn’t do the deed. He said the gun wasn’t clean, but I think he was chicken. Instead of an earring Rick wears some of his mum’s big costume rings, and rhinestone pins on his coat.” This is brilliant: readers now have an image of Rick and also glean something of his personality.
Early in the story, Favour, a self-described “lame keener,” begins dating her long-time friend, Leith, who is continually shaping his personal mythology. Leith has experienced supernatural entities—“They had faces, kind of. Not like people have faces but parts of the light that were like faces”—which warned him that the friends must not “break fellowship.” He interprets this to mean that their theatre company will be special, and that they’ll leave their audiences “slaughtered in the aisles.” But power and allegiances shift, and shift again.
Tucker uses pop culture references from the early 1980s to help establish the time period. Piper Teague, the young drama teacher who “never sounds like a School Board filmstrip,” is described as having feathered hair like Andy Travis from the TV show “WKRP”. The teens listen to Aerosmith, Boston, Kiss and Bowie, and one can almost hear the opening beats of “Ballroom Blitz” when the friends gather for a party. The author juxtaposes these details with her characters’ pontifications upon the different kinds of love; “People Who Make Art;” and meditations upon sadness: “It’s sharp as a broken bottle against your throat; it pushes against my neck from the inside,” and it makes for a compelling read.
His Sweet Favour pushes the YA envelope. It was published by Thistledown Press. Good on them, and good on Tucker for going where other writers never dare.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM