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Shoulder the Sky

by Lesley Choyce

It’s not normal to be so normal, especially if your mother has just died: that’s what adults keep telling 16-year-old Martin Emerson. Everyone else in Martin’s household is struggling under a blanket of grief. His older multi-pierced sister escapes into her loser boyfriend, and his dad is invisible even when he’s there. Only Martin ambles on, seemingly unaffected, until his unconventional heavy metal math teacher convinces him to see an even more unconventional psychiatrist. Our hero doesn’t have to deal with his anger – he has to find it. This book is about that quest.

Martin immediately warns us he’s an unreliable narrator operating through three personas: the regular Martin; the all-knowing web persona of Emerso; and the no-name Martin who sometimes can’t remember where he was the night before. Unfortunately, the “regular” and “no-name” versions aren’t that clearly delineated and the Emerso web postings, which pepper the book with intellectual riffs on everything from intelligent aliens to Herodotus, work like extended dream sequences. Patient readers will find the web rants either illuminating or indulgent.

Martin is mainly a sweet, funny kid who meticulously plans his rebellions (even trying smoking until he can no longer tolerate the banality of cool conversation). The rebellions fail and Martin still ambles on. He hands in his homework and pines for a girl who’s too busy pining for another boy to notice.

Choyce, with over 50 works of fiction to his credit, expertly infuses his characters with an engaging combination of muscle and poetry. We root for Martin as he stumbles around reassembling the puzzle pieces of himself. Shoulder the Sky would make a fine companion volume to Arthur Slade’s similar-themed Tribes.