by Melanie Jackson
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
The last thing Chaz wants is to spend his summer working on his father’s Eye, a Ferris wheel with glass-bottomed gondolas set up to view scenic North Vancouver. For one thing, Chaz would prefer to pursue his own passion: dance in the style of the late, great Gene Kelly. More important, Chaz suffers from vertigo, and even the thought of the Eye makes him want to lose his lunch. But when a crowd of angry protestors and a mysterious vandal threaten his father’s dream, and the family’s livelihood, Chaz is forced to overcome his own fears to help out.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
Drawn in by the cute cover, small page count, and local setting, I thought I'd give this book a try. I've read some pretty good middle-grade contemporaries in the past, and I hoped this would be another one. It wasn't.
Please, dear author, I want some more...
I've only read a handful of books that are set in the Lower Mainland (an area of southwestern British Columbia that encompasses Vancouver and the various cities that surround it). It's always fun to read about familiar settings. It would have been even more fun if this particular North Vancouver was one I actually recognized.
It's all a matter of taste...
The main problem with this book is that it's aimed at middle graders... but it actually reads like it's for much younger kids. All the characters are silly cardboard cutouts. I couldn't care about any of them. I didn't care that Chaz's father thought Chaz's dreams of becoming a dancer made him a loser... because we were only told this, not shown it. The villains were especially ridiculous. One had the last name of Bilk; guess what he did in the story? (I mean, I like it when character names match the characters, but this was just a little too obvious.) Another villain gives a huge infodump near the end that makes him sound like one of the bad guys from Scooby-Doo. And everything is so simplified, to the point that it's a bit insulting. I guess we're all so stupid here that we won't even press charges against someone who physically assaults us, just because the attacker basically throws up his hands and says, "You can't prove a thing!" Oh, well. That makes it okay, then.
Chaz himself comes across as really young. Not too young to fall in instalove with a girl (I think they were holding hands on their second or third meeting, after barely any interaction) but young enough to dance his way through his problems (literally) while saying stuff like, "Pow-ditty-pow-pow!" Also, he didn't really have vertigo. For most of the book, the way his problem is presented makes it sound more like simple motion sickness combined with a fear of heights... not the uncontrollable spinning sensation that's a hallmark of vertigo. When he finally does seem to experience real vertigo, it's overshadowed by yet another stupid plot point: he actually opens one of the gondola cars from the inside to shout at someone on the ground; apparently, there are no safety features on those things... so it won't be long until Chaz's father is sued by the parents of some brat who opens the door and plummets to his death. And then, magically, the vertigo is gone... presumably because Chaz faced his fear. That's just insulting to anyone who suffers from actual disorders of the inner ear who can't just make it all go away with a little courage.
A few attempts were made to inject some elements of mystery into the story, but these ended up being silly as well. The whole thing with the "screams" coming from the Bilks' house? Yeah... I'm not buying it. Neither did I believe that the "bird-watcher" was anything other than a villain, from the moment he stepped on the page. It was all so obvious.
Let's get technical...
Goodreads states that the author lives in California. As I was reading the book, I was thinking, "No kidding!" There seemed to be so many inaccuracies. First of all, everybody is white. There's no racial diversity in this book at all... and if you've ever been to this area, you'd know that's a problem. (Whites are actually the minority now -- 46% in 2011 -- but this book doesn't reflect that.) You wouldn't be able to look down on ski hills from the base of Grouse Mountain, even from the top of a Ferris wheel. The villagers wouldn't be up in arms after one negative editorial in a local newspaper, especially if Chaz's father had gone through all the community consultations and legal paperwork for the Eye, as he claimed he had. The book also gives the impression that the area is more like a small town where everyone knows each other's business than a small part of a very busy and crowded urban sprawl. (Business is decimated because of one article in a North Vancouver paper? One that people in the other nearby cities wouldn't even read? Yeah, right.) And the comment about the property values not going up, but in fact "softening", just had me rolling my eyes. Skyrocketing property values is a huge issue in this area; you'd be hard-pressed to find a local who doesn't know that it's getting harder and harder to afford to live here, mainly because most of your income ends up going to housing. I assumed that all of these inaccuracies were just the result of a non-local author who hadn't done her research. But then, in the back of the book itself, it's stated that Jackson lives in Vancouver! That just makes all of these problems worse, because if she lives here, she should know better.
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. While younger readers might not notice the condescending and juvenile tone to the writing, the inaccurate portrayal of the setting is problematic and not a very good representation of the Lower Mainland.
"Go on," I said. "I'll close up. Nobody's going to come in this weather. And I have to find Dad. It's..."
It's life or death, I almost said. But that was too corny. Or was it? The Eye was Dad's dream. And dreams were what you lived for.
Overall Rating: 1.38 out of 5 ladybugs