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Stars

by Eric Walters

Joseph, a precocious car thief, spins out on a high-speed chase and wakes up in intensive care. Enter a nice, long-suffering social worker named Gord at his bedside with an offer he can’t refuse – a place on a wilderness camping trip for young offenders called STARS, an acronym for Striving Through Adventure to develop Responsibility and Success. We have a hunch right then how things are going to turn out.

Walters is definitely aiming at young male readers; women are left behind in civilization. Joseph goes off by van to the north with seven other miscreants, recognizable on the basis of skin colour or attitude: a very pale boy, a black one, an Indian, a preppie, a pathologically silent type, and a couple of neo-fascists known as “the weasels.” Gord and another counsellor named Stan take responsibility for the survival of the lot. After some strife and setbacks along the way, roughing it in the bush begins to heal the damage done to young psyches by urban culture. Meanwhile, suspense is well maintained (will Joseph run?), and we manage to bond with most of the characters – even one doing hard time for attempted murder.

So many characters make this a very talky book, and Walters leans on dialogue to convey character and advance his plot. The mechanics are somewhat clumsy – there are far too many instances of “he stated” and “Joseph replied.” And because the narrator is a 15-year-old punk, the tone is at times monotonously smart-assed and cynical (no doubt more likely to irritate an adult reader than a young one), and at other times unconvincingly mature. At 315 pages, this looks like a long book; but while it covers a lot of territory, both geographical and psychological, it’s a rapid read, the print equivalent of a television pilot.