Thursday, September 24, 2020

Barry Squires, Full Tilt - Heather Smith

I was immediately drawn to the cover (and title) of Heather Smith's new YA novel - Barry Squires, Full Tilt. I had an inkling that dancing might be involved. I was right - but there's so much more to Barry's story....

1995 St. John's Newfoundland. Twelve year old Barry is determined to join the Full Tilt Dancers - a tap and step dancing troupe that is St. John's famous. There are a few obstacles to overcome on the way to that goal. And sometimes the biggest impediment is Barry himself. School is problematic and Barry spends more time in the principal's office than in the classroom.  

Barry's dialogue, inner thoughts and conversations are quite funny. Barry is quick witted, quick on his feet and quick with his comebacks. And that's the direction I thought the book would take. But, I was very happily proven wrong. There's so much more to Barry's story. He's bullied in and out of school. "I thought about school the next day. Soon I'd feel like a frayed puzzle piece - no matter how hard I'd try to fit in there'd always be bits sticking out."

Barry has a wonderful family - Mom, Dad, Nan, an older brother and sister and Gord - a baby brother. The love Barry feels for his little brother is so touching. The whole family is a close knit group, but there are issues as well. Mom is suffering from postpartum depression. And for Barry, difficult emotions and feelings are hard things to cope with. "The army men marched through my brain all day long. I didn't know who or what they were fighting, but they were angry. They ransacked my thoughts, tossing them aside and breaking them in two."

Okay, so that sounds pretty serious doesn't it? But there's lots of humour as well and Smith does a fantastic job of combining the two. She presents and tackles some heavy issues (I must admit, I was truly caught off guard with one big game changing plotline) with a good dose of banter.

Other supporting characters are unique and diverse and will also draw the reader to them. From homeless Uneven Steven to the residents of the One Step Closer to God Nursing Home. And Saibal - I'll let you meet this wonderful character on your own. I truly enjoyed the conversations between Saibal and Barry. (And the cameos from Alan Doyle and Rick Mercer were fun.) The setting itself is as much a character. 

I often wonder how an author comes up with their ideas for a book or if there's a bit of their own story woven through their work. You'll find a bit of Heather Smith is this novel. She's originally from Newfoundland and "Her east coast roots inspire much of her writing." And I think there's a bit of Barry there too. 

"But this isn't a memoir. Memoirs are for people who've lived long, amazing lives and have inspirations stories to tell." I don't know about that Barry, I think your story is pretty inspirational......An excellent read for all ages. Read an excerpt of Barry Squires, Full Tilt.

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