Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Jolted: Newton Starker and the Incredible genre-defying YA novel

For my professional review of Arthur Slade's new novel, "Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival" (Harper Collins, 2008), I wrote "every classroom and library DESERVES a copy of this unique and clever novel."

I will shake my wording up a bit here to exclaim: go buy this book NOW!

I argue that, for sheer range alone, Arthur Slade is Canada's finest YA novelist and if you read "Jolted" sequentially with the excellent "Megiddo's Shadow" you will concede.

I also argue that "Jolted" cannot really be genre classified. But, this only makes its appeal seamless. In one sense, it is a booksellers' nightmare ( in a good way). For if I were still Rachel the Bookseller, and asked by some antsy 12 year old "What kind of book is it?", I would stretch for words and comparison.

Suffice it to say, it has elements of everything: gothic, supernatural, mystery, fantasy, comedy ( an almost unprecedented plethora of ), and history ( Jerry Potts namesake of Newton's stellar Academy of Higher Learning and Survival holds connections to the Riel Rebellion. In a stroke of brilliance, Potts' headmaster is named Dumont. Get it Gabriel Dumont, anyone, anyone.....Duck Lake? Northwest Rebellion? Fine. I'm a nerd).

In a nutshell, "Jolted" is about a 14 year-old boy, the eponymous Newton Starker who is the last surviving memeber of a family cursed by a long and ancient string of lightning-provoked deaths. (Well, technically second-last, next to his spiteful great grandmother Enid who is described as being as "friendly as a pickled wolverine." Newton, incidentally, is described as "handsome in an Edgar Allen Poe kind of way, that meant he was pale and dark" and likewise as "the quiet cutie most likely to turn into an axe murderer" -- just so you get a sense of how classic this writing actually is).

Newton takes what precautions he can considering his inevitably lugubrious fate. He has long known that his end-result will be catastrophic and spent his formative years adorned with a lightning-deflecting tinfoil hat that while protecting him from the cumulonimbus clouds he so fears, also kept him far away from friendship.

Newton's tale unravels in an exotic and magical realm known as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and the prestigious Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival wherein students wear kilts and learn important lessons about how to brandish a knife, survive in the Cyprus Hills and make gopher quiche. Newton makes friends including Jacob ( a burgeoning author whose novel "The Brilliad" is optioned for publication), Violet ( a towering female who kicks the crap out of Newton in a boxing match ) and a pig called Josephine ( whose ancestry includes a porker once belonging to Emperor Bonaparte).

As infinitely clever as the plot itself, are the literary devices that infuse every page. Savvy readers will get shivers. I would love to confiscate a grade 6 or 7 class and read this aloud. Consider verb usage:" Were those cumulonimbus clouds skulking under the half moon?"; alliteration ( 4 bs on one sentence)" the Belfry's Bronze Bell Began to toll"; literal and figurative meanings used simultaneously, such as the word "shock."

Silly and wonderful chapter headings, interruptions by the narrator for backstory, emails, National Globe articles, phone conversations with Environment Canada and even insight into 18th Century journal entries, make this novel fresh and inviting. It is like nothing I have read before.

And it is funny. Really funny. For example, a lame comeback care of Newton prompts the narrator to observe: "These were the second stupidest words ever spoken by a Starker. The stupidest being when Andrew Starker ran towards a summer storm, clutching a lightning rod and shouting 'Give it your best shot, you spawns of the Devil!' They did. He died."

This book is ridiculously, giddily, brightly and wonderfully constructed making for the ultimate fresh and funny read.

Out of the hundreds of YA books I read for my work a year, I find but a handful that really make me want to start a sentence with, "Hi I'm Rachel. Go read *insert fantastic novel here*

If I were still wiling away my post-university hours at the World's Biggest Bookstore, I would be handselling this like mad to anyone who appreciated a great yarn ---regardless of minute details like age-classification and genre.

Newton likes to ready himself for adventure (read: impending doom )with a bold: "Okay Newton, time to take on the world!"

And, you know what?, I really really think he should!

Here's some good stuff for you to look at: Arthur Slade's erudite blog;

And, here you will find some of Arthur Slade's guest blogs at Harper Collins' the Savvy Reader

Finally, my LM Montgomery experiment continues here at Maud and Me


Georg said...

Hallo Rachel,

Your description does not leave me indifferent.

But, please, what means YA?????


Rachel said...

I use YA as an acronym for Young Adult fiction

Georg said...

Thank you, Rachel, ya, ya, mon général (old movie with Jerry Lewis in its French version).

Now I am ready to jolt myself in this book.