The cruelty of Adolescents towards each other has long been a staple in the books written for young adults¨Robert Cormier's contemporary classic, The Chocolate War, is one such book that immediately springs to mind. Aptly so, as Beth Goobie's fantastic new book The Lottery definitely pays homage to it, both in theme and with the knowing little detail of having one of the minor characters reading the book just he himself is about to be victimized.
Fifteen-year-old Sal Hansen's world, one that already has its share of darkness, is further shattered when she is selected as the winner of the Shadow Council's annual lottery. The "prize" entails being shunned by the whole student body for the rest of the academic year, while also serving as the Council's messenger, delivering the cruel assignments that they set for other students as a demonstration of their power. At first, Sal hopes that her friends, Kimmie, and particularly, Brydan will stand by her and defy the Shadow Council, but, like all the students at Saskatoon Collegiate, they are terrified that this will only result in them being victimized too. Sal is left to face the horror of her situation alone, not even confiding until forced to, near the end of the novel, in Dusty, the older brother who is her main family support. What makes it far worse, are the mixed feelings she has about Willis Cass, the Shadow Council's president, who sometimes seems to go out of his way to protect her but whose ultimate loyalty proves to be to the organization.
Sal is a complex character¨one with whom readers will readily identify¨and this makes The Lottery a powerful and disturbing book, as through her experiences readers are forced to confront and explore uncomfortable issues relating to conformity, friendship, guilt, and most important of all, the moral cowardice and apathy that allow bullies to act with success. When all is said and done, the Shadow Council members must be seen as bullies who bolster their own egos by preying upon their fellow students' weaknesses. Sal, like Cormier's Jerry Renault, has to decide whether she dares to challenge the powers-that-be. Her decision, although wrenchingly difficult, allows her to face down the other forces in her life that are tormenting her.
Such an unrelentingly dark theme needs to be handled with sensitivity and skill, and this is something Goobie does, leavening the bleakness with Sal's wry humour, and also with the repeated musical motifs running through the book, be they the head-banging music that Sal's brother uses as a release for his frustration, or the beautiful duet "Inside the Question", that Willis and Sal play together in band, and which helps her break his hold on her. Goobie's touch is deft, her observation of the details of teenage life acute, and the result is a book that will challenge its readers and ultimately bring insight. I hope this book will find a place in all high school libraries.
Gillian Chan's The Carved Box is a nominee for The Silver Birch Awards; her latest book for young adults is A Foreign Field.