||A Review of: Take The Stairs
by Tim McGrenere
Karen Krossing's first novel for teens begins with an interesting
premise: thirteen stories told from the perspective of thirteen
different teenagers who all live in the same run-down apartment
building. Each character tells a story of personal adversity, and
most end with some form of personal triumph. Petra escapes "the
Building", as it is called by the tenants, and an abusive
father. Tanya lets her leg hair grow and faces social humiliation
at the pool to escape the repressive "beauty myth".
Jennifer comes out of the closet. The stories intersect somewhat,
with various characters re-appearing throughout the book.
Krossing does have some good moments. One of her characters has to
paddle her injured father home at night and reflects that "the
wilderness was harsh and unforgiving, but it wasn't really so
different from [her] home in the city. The indifference of the
strangers that were neighbours in the building. The unexpected
hazards in the underground and the stairwells..." On the whole,
however, the book is fundamentally flawed because the voices of
Krossing's thirteen characters are not convincing. They rarely sound
like teenagers. Worse, they often sound like an adult who's trying
hard to sound like a teenager. Sometimes, Krossing lets her own
"writerly" voice overtake her character's voice; so,
you'll have a teenaged couch potato with no previous flair for
romanticism suddenly describing a girl whose "eyes were shining
black jewels and her cheeks burned deep burgundy." Burgundy?
And not one of these teenagers utters a single vulgarity other than
one or two instances of the word "bitch". Krossing handles
the girls better than the boys, but I still can't imagine many
teenagers from places like the Building recognizing themselves here.
This brings me to my second criticism. Although the book deals with
real issues (homosexuality, child abuse, alcoholism, racism, etc.),
it does so in a highly sanitized, after-school-special way. It reads
almost as if Krossing set out a checklist of hot-button issues that
teens would respond to and then systematically ticked them off as
she wrote a story about a teenager overcoming each one. But Krossing
never fully realizes any single one of these issues in a satisfying
way. We are told about the effects that Petra's abusive father has,
but we are never given enough telling details to really feel those
effects and so we don't believe in or care for her triumph (and we
aren't convinced she's real anyway).
I suppose the goal of presenting teenagers with uplifting and
inspirational narratives is a laudable one, but it can't be at the
expense of a basic principle of good fiction: convincing characters
in convincing situations.