Review by Hira Peracha
Orca Book Publishers, September 2020
108 pages, Paperback, $10.95 CAD, 978-1-45-982389-1
Ages 12+, Grades 7+
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Mystery
I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
And after Fern died, I did. I couldn’t face her family or her funeral. So I ran away to the city and fell apart. For the first three months I was a wreck.
Then I found this youth shelter, Cedarvale. They helped me turn things around, and I vowed to make something of my life for Fern’s sake.
I really thought I was getting there. I’d been planning to come to the bench today to tell her how good I’m doing. How I have a job and a place to live.
So much for that.
Loss and addiction have a way of overpowering your thoughts. When it seems like the only option available, you sometimes have to seek help from strangers. Kipp learns the hard way that not everyone has good intentions. He has no parental figures, addiction issues, an unstable income, and is struggling with grief and guilt over his girlfriend’s death. Stranded, the new high-interest, low-literacy (hi-lo) novel by author Jocelyn Shipley, touches on tough subjects surrounding a teen boy’s fight for survival.
Teenage protagonist Kipp experiences adversity after adversity. First, he loses his job as a restaurant shift manager after lashing out at a customer for making racist remarks to a co-worker. Second, he’s kicked out of his house, which he shared with seven other people. While he deals with losing his main source of income and the roof over his head, he must also wade through the pain and loss of his girlfriend’s death. With no one else to turn to, Kipp finds himself agreeing to work for and stay with a woman named Reba, who he met at a shelter.
As his life becomes more stable, his passion for cooking grows and we get to see the enjoyably complex character Kipp really is. He’s happy, he has a job, a home, and company. He has a good heart and good intentions, despite having to still work on himself and his impulsivity. But not everything is as wonderful as it first seems. When a girl comes by the house looking for her brother, Kipp realizes that he may have trusted Reba too quickly, and that accepting help is fine, but sometimes it may be unwise. After investigating, Kipp realizes that Reba has not been telling the truth about her son studying abroad and the teenagers she’s helped in the past.
Although Stranded mentions heavy topics, it is done in a way that’s meant for younger readers. Kipp has almost no one to rely on, now that his girlfriend Fern is dead (though ever-so-present in Kipp’s mind). At the beginning, we are introduced to her through exposition. And throughout the novel, Fern is an absent character who influences his actions. The novel begins and ends with the mention of her. Some books might utilize the dead girlfriend trope as a way to propel a male main character through a storyline, but in Stranded, Fern is not only a girlfriend who dies, she is not forgotten. She is valued through Kipp’s memories of her and the way she valued persistence.
Stranded uses simple and conversational language, making it quite accessible to many different people. The conversational tone makes it seem as though Kipp is speaking directly to the reader, bringing them closer to him and his experiences (i.e. through rhetorical questions such as “What have I gotten myself into?”). Stranded is written to be accessible, in a style of writing called high interest, low-literacy (hi-lo) that aims to engage reluctant readers who want more mature themes. Although at times the pacing felt a bit fast, the mystery is engaging and kept me hooked. The hi-lo style is also great for those who don’t have much time on their hands.
This is an accessible and touching story about rising above homelessness, loss, and addiction. It is easily digestible for a younger audience and allows readers to be engulfed by Kipp’s resilience and his strength in overcoming obstacles.
Hira Peracha is a recent graduate from the Psychology and Creative Writing programs at the University of British Columbia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry.