After losing her mother to cancer, Kate’s family hasn’t been the same. Her father is distant and she has fallen out of love with the sport that defined her prior to her mother’s death. When her father gets a new job coaching basketball for the exclusive Beacon Prep, Kate is excited by the change and looks forward to a new life. When Kate begins dating star basketball player Jack Blane she is drawn into a world of prestige and entitlement where the boys of the team and the girls who date them get away with things not normally tolerated by high school teens. She ignores the niggling suspicion that she is loved for the fact her father is the coach of an undefeated program and becomes more and more wrapped up in Jack’s world. She is in love with the idea of being popular and wanted and revels in the joys of having something in common with her father again. When things go terribly wrong and Kate is sexually assaulted at a party Kate is torn between the silence that protects her father and speaking out on her own behalf.
Canary is written as a standard novel with blog posts (www.allmytruths.com, which is an actual Tumblr blog designed by the author) mixed in between standard chapters. The novel itself tells the main storyline and the blog posts describe Kate’s inner thoughts and feelings through mostly verse format. It is within these blog posts that we see Kate’s inner struggles despite trying to put on a brave face in her daily life. The posts tell the real story. Some of the posts are emotionally driven and heartfelt, showing the pain Kate feels after losing her mother and the confusion she feels as she gets deeper into her relationship with Jack. Others are sarcastic and witty, like the posts titled Proper Care and Handling of a Beacon Basketball Player Boyfriend. Despite its humorous tone, the underlying message still reveals the ambivalence that Kate feels about her newfound popular status. It is clear from her blog posts that she feels as though she is on shaky ground in a precarious situation, even before the assault at the party. At first I wasn’t sure about the intention of the blog posts, but by the end of the story they become a huge part of Kate finding her voice. What started out a private way of expressing herself becomes her outlet for spreading the truth about her experiences.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Despite its heavy subject matter it was an easy read with a great payoff. I love how the author sets up Kate’s story with the loss of her mother and builds up her need for companionship through her rocky relationship with her father. By the time Kate begins dating Jack in earnest I was invested in her outcomes as a character and wanted things to work out for her. In fact, I liked her so much that when the warning bells started going off that things were about to go very wrong I was yelling at her to step back and take a good look at her situation. There were times that I questioned her ability to look the other way when things were so blatantly out of control, but I feel like that was part of the book’s purpose. Canary explores the dangers of putting student athletes on a pedestal and blindly determining they can do no wrong. With rape cases like the one at Steubenville High School in the headlines all too often today I feel like this story is rooted in the very dismal reality we are facing today. I hated Kate’s father for making her feel like she had no voice and loved her brother and Julia for being there for Kate even when she treated them unkindly. It’s a great triumph when Kate finally finds her voice and is able to walk the halls of school with her head held high.
I would recommend this book for young adult readers in a wide age range. Although the story handles complex issues of sexuality, it does an excellent job of treating those issues with great care and respect. The takeaway lessons presented in the book are well presented and never preachy. I feel like a wide variety of readers from different backgrounds would get a lot from the novel. In the end, rape and sexual assault among teens is an issue that needs talking about and Canary tackles the topic in a compassionate way.