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Tribes

by Arthur Slade

Since the death three years earlier of his father, a world-famous anthropologist, 17-year-old Percy Montmount Jr. believes he’s truly able to see the world through his father’s eyes. As a quasi-omniscient observer studying the ritualistic world of Grade 12 at Saskatoon’s Groverly High and its array of tribes – the Logo, Grunge, Digerati, Lipstick/Hairspray, and Hockey tribes among others – Percy has been obsessively collecting materials for his book, The Origin of Species Revisited. But Percy’s anthropological antics are fast becoming a matter of concern to his mother, his teachers, and his only remaining friend, Elissa. Haunted by the burdens of his father’s calling and the painful memories of a friend’s suicide, Percy decides to try to take control of his life with utterly fascinating results.

Arthur Slade’s Tribes is a first-rate young adult novel and a worthy successor to his 2001 Governor General’s Award-winning Dust. Slade has neatly balanced a multi-layered plot with an intensely moving portrait of a teenager desperately trying to cope with the pain of past emotional burdens and present angst. Slade neatly captures a sense of the absurdity of Percy’s anthropological studies without ever making fun of him. The novel is a series of field notes that offer us access to the darkest recesses of Percy’s private life while allowing us to analyze those notes and see the emotional muddle that Percy’s in more clearly than he does himself.

Especially moving is Percy’s inability to separate his growing feelings for Elissa from his constant need to observe and record. Although the dialogue sometimes seems a little stilted even for an amateur anthropologist,Tribes is an inventive and deeply honest young adult novel that is sure to capture the interest of teen readers.