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YA / Teen Fantasy – The Chaos

The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

I found this YA/teen fantasy to have a very likable heroine, but it’s definitely in the surreal vein.  Sixteen-year-old Soujourner “Scotch” Smith is a normal Toronto high school girl, she’s got friends, thinks her parents are too restrictive, and is eagerly preparing for a dance contest.  There are troubles too, of course – she is on the outs with her ex-BFF for allegedly poaching her boyfriend; her brother was In jail for drug possession; and she’s got some kind of weird  black, sort of sticky substance growing in patches on her. The doctors don’t know what it is, and nothing gets rid of it.  Oh, and she’s seeing weird little animals floating around too.

When her parents head off for a weekend, leaving Scotch and her brother Rich alone, they head off for an illicit visit to a nightclub.   It’s then that chaos really erupts, literally. A bizarre bubble forms in the nightclub, and her brother disappears into it. A volcano forms in Lake Ontario. People turn into bizarre creatures. A giant house on chicken legs is walking around, and the witch inside is taunting Scotch.  Plus there’s a frightening black thing following her as well.

As Scotch careens through the city, her skin getting progressively worse and worse, trying to find her brother and figure out what’s happening, she’s forced to think about her own identity and accept her flaws.

I found the surreal happenings a bit much, but then, the book is about chaos after all.  I recognized several fantasy elements of course, and Hopkinson adds interesting Caribbean elements. You can’t help but like Scotch. With a white Jamaican father and a black Canadian mother, Scotch’s racial identity isn’t immediately obvious to others although she identifies as Black. I really liked the diversity of her friends, her awareness of racism towards her and her darker-skinned brother, and her horror when she herself expresses bias.  Some of it seemed a bit preachy though. Despite her own predicament, Scotch tries to help others too. As the book progresses I couldn’t really see how Hopkinson was going to get her out of it, but it ends happily enough for Scotch and her family, although not for everyone.

It’s an interesting story with a lot of elements to think about. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s never read fantasy before, but if you’re in the mood for something different, give it a try.




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