I have a bad habit of picking inappropriate airplane books. Which inevitably leads to me crying in front of 300 strangers (as happened when reading Come Thou, Tortoise). Saturday morning, I flew to Austin, TX for work. (What a city! Had a fantastic time.) I had my Kobo packed and so lots to choose from, but also recently bought a good old-fashioned hard copy of Sheree Fitch’s new young adult novel Pluto’s Ghost, so I threw that into my bag at the last minute.
Pluto’s Ghost is the story of Jake Upshore, a troubled teen from a small Nova Scotia town. He lost his mother at a very young age. He is dyslexic and struggles at school. He has suffered with substance abuse and has had more than one run-in with the law. He is occasionally violent with an unruly and explosive temper.
But Jake is so much more than his bad reputation. He is desperately trying to improve himself. He is in therapy and overcoming his addictions, having been clean for six months. He is a songwriter and a poet. He studies martial arts with a teacher, one of his mother’s old friends. He started his own landscaping business. He is in love with longtime friend Skye Derucci, but even this relationship brings limited joy as Skye insists on keeping the relationship secret – she says this is because of her overprotective policeman-father, but Jake is pretty sure it is because she’s ashamed of him.
The novel opens with Jake being handcuffed and shoved into the back seat of a police car in Halifax.
“Everything that’s happened is because of Skye. I’m not blaming. I’m just saying. I’m telling this tale because of Skye and the only reason I was starting to think my pathetic life wasn’t such a crock of shit after all was because of Skye. “
How did he get there? It started with Skye’s disappearance, and the rumour that she was pregnant and running off to Halifax for an abortion. Not quite sure what he wants her to do, Jake is hurt that she didn’t turn to him, and decides to follow her to the city.
“I’m not complainin’
I’m just explainin’
I’m not excusin’
I thought I was losin’
Thus begins a terrible 48 hours filled with poor decisions, terrible choices and bad, bad luck. Rumours continue to swirl, as they will in a small town, and your heart breaks right along with Jake’s as you wonder: is she pregnant? Is the baby even Jake’s? Why won’t she answer her phone?
The novel is written in Jake’s voice. His therapist and teachers encourage him to tell his story, both to help deal with the trauma and to earn the final credits needed to graduate high school. Most mentions of teenage pregnancy in novels are from the perspective of the mother, but Pluto’s Ghost allows you to see it from the other side. While Jake knows and accepts that the choice in the end lies with Skye, he desperately wants to be involved. He wants to believe that his voice matters. He just wants to be asked, and have a chance to state his opinion and show his support.
In true Fitch style, Pluto’s Ghost reads like a poem. Using songs, poems, word tricks and more, Fitch writes the novel in the voice of an angry, dyslexic and extremely sensitive boy. She takes you inside the troubled mind of a confused young teenager as he deals with pregnancy, loneliness and addiction, and the kind of desperate love only an 18-year-old can feel.
To anyone who has ever fallen in love with an 18-year-old bad-ass (which is pretty much everyone I know: You will fall in love with Jake Upshore. You will want to hold him, kiss his forehead, run your hands through his hair, and make everything better. But he won’t let you. That’s not what he does, and that’s not how it works. Pluto’s Ghost will touch you, shock you and knock the wind out of you with its final scenes. And as mentioned, you may cry on a plane full of strangers.
“Murderer. It’s one kick in the belly of a word isn’t it? Has a taste, too. It tastes like barbed wire and has wild hyena eyes. Murderer. Murder-her. Did he? Did I? That’s when I remember what I want to forget.”
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada (September 28, 2010)