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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

12 February 2004 NOTHING TO LOSE by Alex Flinn, Harper Tempest, March 2004, ISBN 0-06-051750-6


"I raised my mallet and began pounding, pounding, pounding. In front of me, it was this little mole, trying to pop out of its mole hole to safety. But in my head it was everything else. Mom, sitting with her hand on the telephone, afraid to pick it up. Boom! People at school, who used to be my friends, but now they crapped on me. Bam! Dutton, holding his fingers up in the shape of an L. Boom, bam! Karpe, pathetically begging me to come here, and my going. Boom! Boom! Boom! Walker, hitting my mother. Bam! Me, never doing anything about it.



"When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose

You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal."

--Dylan, "Like A Rolling Stone"


At the moment, Michael Daye is doing his best to appear invisible. These days he's behind the counter at that Whack-a-Mole game--working as a carny--and going by the name of Robert Frost. Traveling the circuit with Corbett's Amusements, he's back on his home turf for the first time in a year and is thus forced to come face to face with those dark memories of his not-so-distant past as a high school student with an abusive stepfather and a life that had spiraled so rapidly downward out of control.


"It was like playing Hot Potato with a hand grenade. You never knew when he might explode."


And upon his somewhat disguised return to his hometown, he learns that his mother is about to go on trial for murdering Walker, that vicious stepfather.


"Behind me the cops are still talking...

" 'I don't get it. What's the big deal about this case?'

"The fat cop snorts. 'What you don't get is a lot. You been on the force as long as I have, you know which cases'll get the attention. This one's got it all: a violent murder, a rich guy, and a beautiful woman who's guilty as sin.'

"I feel myself flinch, knowing for sure now. The woman they're talking about is my mother.

" 'You think?' the female cop asks. 'I'm not so sure.'

" 'What's her defense?' the other cop says. 'She brained him with a stinking fire poker.'

" 'She's saying he beat her up.'

" 'That's what they all say. If it was so bad, why didn't she leave the poor slob? That's what I want to know. Why didn't she leave?' "


That is the question that we must come to terms with as Michael's story alternates in time between his current, uneasy stop with the fair in the town where he's the missing son of an accused murderer, and those horrific months last year preceding his decision to finally leave his mother on her own and hit the road.


"Once in driver's ed we saw this movie about hydroplaning. That's when the road's wet and the water picks up your car and makes it skid. The movie said the reason hydroplaning causes accidents is, people fight it. It's instinct to try not to skid.

"But what you really need to do is the opposite. Accept it. You want to be safe, just keep your hands on the wheel and turn into the skid. "I was in a skid those weeks before I left--with Walker, my mom, my friends. And if I fought it, I'd crash and burn.

"I fought it."


"But, you see the colors in me like no one else

And behind your dark glasses you're...

You're something else"

--No Doubt, "Underneath It All"


A graphic tale of abuse, and a penetrating look at both the limitations of The System and why someone like Michael's mom would continue to stay with Walker, NOTHING TO LOSE is equally a superb story about the strong, lasting, if sometimes invisible bonds between two teen friends with a long history. As the relationship between Michael and Karpe is revealed, we see that it sometimes takes falling off the mountain to discover that you are actually tied to another person.


Richie Partington




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