Thursday, 29 August 2013

review: Jumped In

by Patrick Flores-Scott
Henry Holt & Co. BFYR, August 27 2013
young adult contemporary
ARC received via publisher (thank you!)

Ever since Sam was uprooted from Aberdeen—the city which his favourite band Nirvana was from—to his grandparents’ place in Seattle by his mother, who promptly abandoned him for Phoenix, he’s been slacking his way through sophomore year. Until the English slam poetry unit, when he gets paired up with Luis Cardenas by their gung-ho English teacher. Luis is Mexican, scarred and seems to have slackerhood down even better than Sam. But poetry reveals hidden depths in both boys…
The cover:

Smart move to make the title sans serif and rectangular against the (very) messy jumble of typewriter, but the addition of the boys image isn’t enough to balance out this cover. There’s no depth to it, and the colour scheme is nonexistent.

The book:

Gosh, Jumped In is a very mixed bag. Sam’s voice is moderately authentic, at least in his narration. This was one of the rare cases where I found the swear words used judiciously, realistically. However, when we get to dialogue, too often Sam or other characters sound (well, read) awkward, stilted or simply phony, especially once we hit the exclamation marks. Combine this dichotomy with a great structure—short chapters that work fabulously to keep up an otherwise-draggy pace, interspersed with Luis’s poetry—and the overall reading experience is somewhat bewildering.

Luis is perhaps the best-developed character due to his poetry; Sam’s character arc feels unbalanced since he doesn’t really require much growth to turn his life around, at least not compared to Luis’s problems. Adult characters are all developed superficially, enough to placate but nothing to really satisfy. Together, the wide cast attempts to make up for quality by quantity, and depending on your pickiness it may succeed.

Like Sam’s growth, the plot feels unbalanced: he and Luis become friends very quickly and there is a marked lack of conflict throughout the majority of the novel, especially since his (perfectly valid) teenage angst is always in sharp relief with the troubles Luis faces. Flores-Scott does manage to send his point home in a relatively moving way, though, ensuring the reader gets something at the end:
I’m so pissed at myself.
Pissed for having been angry with Luis. Pissed at myself for thinking the worst about him. I can’t get the image of the scar out of my head. Not just the scar, but all the crap I imagined about it.
I hate myself for the time I spent thinking those things.
Mostly I’m upset that my first friend in a long time is so sick that he might die.
Couldn’t he have warned me? Couldn’t he have said, Don’t get too close and please don’t care about me because I might not be around for long? (p.253)
Okay, let’s talk about the poems, because they are SO. LOVELY. I’m no poet, but they connect with you, with their rhythm and imagery and reality, brutal truth cloaked in harsher words, and they made me ache for Luis Cardenas who comes loaded with a history and legacy which Sam couldn’t ever understand. But he does his best, and Flores-Scott doesn’t hesitate to call out his protagonist:
They introduce themselves. Tre and Quintel. They tell me how long they’ve known Luis and his mom and how, along with Leticia, they organize the Viking Glen trick-or-treating and the block watch and all that kind of crap.
“We look out for each other around here,” Tre says. “So we been trying to figure out what’s going on with Luis and his mom. And worryin’. That’s why we overreacted on you. We straight?”
I feel like a complete racist dumbass for what I’d been thinking about them. For the reasons I ran. “Yeah, that’s fine. I’m sorry I ran away from you.” (p. 229 – 230)
Ethnic balance: 3.5 out of 5. We have Mexicans, blacks, a (potential) interracial romance and a white protag. Okay, not bad.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5