Theories of Relativity

by Barbara Haworth-Attard
ISBN: 0006392997

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A Review of: Theories of Relativity
by Heather Birrell

Sixteen-year-old Dylan is alone, on the streets, panhandling at the foot of a glass office tower for money to buy his next meal. How did he get there? And how long will he stay? These are questions Barbara Haworth-Attard attempts to answer in her excellent young teen (ages 12-14) novel, Theories of Relativity. In this spare and straightforward first person narration, Dylan tells it as he sees it, describing the flaxen-haired beauty, Jenna, he first spots begging across the street from his post, and her sinister pimp, nicknamed Vulture, with equal parts clear-eyed honesty and cynical teenage humour.
The "theories" of the title refer to a hypothesis Dylan has been developing regarding his place in the world, cribbed in part from a book explaining Einstein's thought he discovered at a local library-a book that is later stolen by his friend and fellow street kid, the well-meaning (if wrongheaded), and hopped-up Twitch. Einstein provides Dylan a way of predicting how often passersby will toss him change, and Dylan provides Einstein a variation on the thinker's most famous hypothesis regarding relativity: relatives all suck. What Dylan cannot predict is how easy it is to slip into the very cycle of abuse and neglect he initially dismisses as beneath him.
Dylan's spiral into despair begins with his abusive mother, who finds life easier with her eldest son out of the house, and later denies their connection when she remarries. Although Dylan misses his younger stepbrothers, and yearns to protect them, he rarely visits home, and when winter comes to the streets, he decides to seek out his grandfather, one of the few adults he respects. Unfortunately, this visit also involves a first time run-in with his father, an opportunistic drunk. Dylan returns to the streets and, after suffering a beating, begins using drugs under the watchful eye of his nemesis, Vulture.
This novel's greatest strength is its invitation to identify and empathize with Dylan's situation-the ambivalence he feels when he hits rock bottom, his resistance to the idea that he can be helped by (often oblivious) adults who "know best", and his eventual realization that any form of true support and encouragement must first come from within. What Haworth succeeds in communicating, through Dylan's wry and vulnerable voice, is that often kids have no choice but to take their chances on the streets, especially when all other options have been blocked off-by ignorant family members, a disapproving society, substance abuse, low self-esteem, and sheer fatigue in the face of life's constant and colossal challenges.

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