Review by Louise Brecht
Orca Book Publishers, October 2017
288 pages, hardcover, $19.95 CDN, 978-4598-1409-7
Ages 12+, Grades 7+
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Romance
I looked after you, Evie. I taught you stuff. I protected you. You know how a clown fish takes care of the coral reef it lives in and vice versa? You were my coral reef. You were my world. You were my bud.
All I hear now is the fucking Coyote. I can’t stand it, for everything it’s done and everything it’s doing. The day it goes away will be the greatest day of my life.
I hate it.
Munro Maddux’s world shattered the day his thirteen-year-old sister died. Evie’s heart defect, common in children with Down syndrome, was inoperable, but it was not supposed to be fatal. When she collapsed, Munro could not revive her.
Munro vs. the Coyote is the story of a grief-stricken brother’s quest to recover from the depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress symptoms induced by his sister’s passing. Months later, his right hand still aches from the efforts he made. He suffers from vivid flashbacks, sudden bursts of anger, and the accusations of an illusory companion he calls Coyote whose criticisms, of his failure to protect the sibling he cherished, and his inability to accept her death, echo his unspoken angst.
Determined to silence the beast’s descant, Munro embarks on a student exchange half a globe away. Australia was the destination of Evie’s dreams: beaches, swimming, koalas, digeridoos, and heartthrob, Chris Hemsworth. Her extra chromosome (21) had done little to quell either her zest for learning or her gritty independence. Yet without her, her brother finds few differences between the home and high school they’d shared in Ladner, British Columbia, and his temporary abode in Brisbane, Queensland—with one exception. Sussex State High requires all grade 11’s to complete fifty hours of community service work, and Munro’s assignment to Fair Go Community Village, an assisted living facility for other young adults with special needs, is non-negotiable.
I was drawn to the realism and poignancy of his reactions; sixteen-year-old boys are seldom portrayed as sensitive individuals. And as the rages and meltdowns that had nearly exhausted his sanity continue to haunt him in Australia, I was fully engaged with Munro as the protagonist. His odyssey is self-told through an intimate play-by-play of his internal conflict(s). The guilt and pain that he refuses to share with his new mates or love interest, Caro, are laid bare in inner dialogues, one-sided conversations with Evie, and blame-game chats with Coyote, even as his behaviour spirals out of control.
Fair Go Community Village, at first, buffers the rising tension(s). Coyote is silent there and, like Evie, Munro’s cohort of five-plus-one residents refuse to be defined by their challenges. Bernie, Shah, Iggy, Florence, Blake and Dale: there is definitive knowledge in the way author Darren Groth depicts the unique diversities of their special needs. Their dignity and humanity shine, and readers are granted special insight into lives that are not often in the spotlight—at least, not often enough. They cannot replace his sister, but each of them plays a pivotal part in resolving Munro’s existential dilemma…and the author’s riveting plotline.
Trauma and guilt vs. love and support, diversity vs. acceptance, a quest for self-knowledge that spans two continents: despite its thematic complexities, Munro vs. the Coyote is an easy book to devour. Numerous font changes that indicate shifts in Munro’s internal dialogue distracted me at first, but I quickly learned to recognize one from the other, and appreciate that each is integral to the story’s arc of action. I was particularly intrigued by the dichotomy of the primary settings. Sussex High, its staff, students, and Munro’s experiences there, evoked an easy familiarity, but the uniqueness of Fair Go Community Village, its completely individual residents and their impact on the protagonist, stole my heart. I wanted their personal stories to go on long after I closed the book.
Louise Brecht is a Creative Writing and English Literature student at the University of British Columbia. An avid reader and aspiring author, Louise has published works of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry in nineteenquestions, Pearls, Collage, and Sweatink.