Sunday, June 01, 2008

Children’s Books: Solo by Alyssa Brugman

Mackenzie is attending a special wilderness camp being run for teenagers with problems. It’s not a brat camp or a punishment. Among the workshops and other activities, the camp offers its attendees the chance to spend 24 hours camping alone in the Australian bush: the Solo. Most of the teens have refused it. Mackenzie has accepted, for reasons that aren’t made clear, though by the end of Solo (Allen & Unwin), the reader understands why she needed that time to herself.

Most of the novel takes place in flashback, as Mackenzie sits by the river or in her tent, recalling all the events in her life that have led her to where she is now. This isn’t easy because, as Mackenzie herself admits, she’s a liar, who has been lying all her life, to her schoolmates -- who are first sympathetic and then angry as they find out -- and to herself. Eventually, most of the truth comes out, although the final part of it isn’t told till the last few pages, not to the reader but to a fellow camper who hadn’t opted for the Solo, but whom Mackenzie thinks would benefit from it, as she has.

By the end, we even understand why Mackenzie would find lying the best way to go, when we find out the tragedy that resulted from her telling the truth for once, to the wrong people; she has been blaming herself ever since.

Alone in the bush, with no distractions, Mackenzie is able to re-live her life, however traumatic the experience is. The ghosts of her past almost literally come back to haunt her, but she fights them and is eventually at peace with herself for something that wasn’t really her fault.

The book is a not-too-hard read in short chapters, though Mackenzie seems to know a lot of long words, maybe as a result of all that talking with counselors, and it has the sort of themes that teen readers like -- lots of angst, for starters -- and Mackenzie has every reason for feeling angst. After all, she has had a lot more to worry about than whether her schoolmates have been talking about her behind her back or whether that cute boy likes her. Homelessness, for example. The fact that nobody likes her, although the teachers and counselors at school are kind and helpful to her. The fact that her mother has kicked her out of the house and her father is gone.

Mackenzie is solo in more ways than the obvious.

My quibble with Solo is that the author built up a character, Callum, early in the book, and then he didn’t play any real role in the story. He was just there to trade deep secrets with Mackenzie in the last few pages of the book and be urged to have a go at the Solo. I’m guessing that girls who read the book will feel a little cheated.

Solo should appeal to older girls who like Maureen McCarthy or Margaret Clark’s grimmer stories.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see your point about the Callum character, but given that she is 'Solo' for the middle part of the book, how would you have gone about fixing this? Would you have not introduced this character in the first place? Would you have had him turn up during the Solo? How would you have approached it to resolve this flaw?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 4:38:00 AM PDT  

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