The title of Robin Stevenson’s latest book for YA readers refers to “the speed an object has to travel to escape Earth’s gravitational pull.” But for 15-year-old Lou Summers, it has another connotation. It is the title of her estranged mother Zoe’s most recent novel. Lou has been combing the book for clues, trying to figure out why Zoe abandoned her as a baby. A recent reunion was a dismal failure, and her mother remains a cold, distant source of disapproval.
Her father, Garland, is by contrast warm and loving, but hardly an ideal parent. Unable to work because of a back injury, he spends his days on the couch, popping painkillers, drinking beer, and eating pizza. It’s up to Lou to keep their home in Drumheller, Alberta, running, and to provide enough money for necessities from her part-time job.
Then Garland has a heart attack, and Lou is sent to live with her mother in Victoria. It’s a catastrophe, but also an opportunity, as mother and daughter struggle to develop some kind of relationship. At one point, Zoe proposes that, since she is no good as a mother, perhaps they should just be friends. Lou, however, prefers a lousy mother to no mother at all.
Stevenson avoids the overblown drama that sometimes creeps into the YA genre, and delivers a nuanced story that is both familiar and inspiring, yet never cloying. Escape Velocity is a subtle meditation on both the ties that bind and the difficulties that divide. While it is clear-eyed about the damage one generation often visits on the next, it celebrates the nobility of our efforts to escape those limitations.