Monday, July 4, 2011

Unlocked by Ryan G. Van Cleave

Andy is 14 years old, the son of his school's janitor. When he starts classes at his new high school, he soon finds himself alone without friends - just like Sue, Nicholas and Blake. He quickly sets up the scenario for storyline, how everyone has formed their own cliques but left these three students out.

The rumour mill at school has it that Blake has a gun in his locker. But the rumour mill says a lot of things, so who knows if this is true. As the son of the janitor, Andy could find out if Blake really does have a gun by using his father's master keys to open Blake's locker. Finding out would make him cool and might just get him what Becky Ann promised.

I don't know
if I really wanted
to see if Blake
had a gun
or whether
I just wanted
to impress Becky Ann
by having the guts
to go look.
     Who knows what
     the "something"
     she promised
     would be?

All Andy wants to be is liked and accepted by his classmates. At first he really doesn't want to know if Blake has a gun or not. This is a frightening thing for Andy. And besides, wouldn't an adult know for sure?

Surely the teachers
would know
if a kid had a gun

Surely someone
would do something.

Then I realized:
what if
were that

Eventually, Andy forms a sort of friendship with Blake. It is a friendship based around their obsession about one thing - Blake's gun. It is apparent that both boys are dealing with teenage angst as well as difficult home situations. Both boys are alienated from their peers, bullied and lacking an engaged male role model in their lives.

As Blake's behaviour grows increasingly strange, Andy must choose, based on what he knows about Blake's life and what he is struggling with, either to remain faithful to his conscience or his friend. Either way, the decision will be a painful one.


Unlocked is a brief exploration into the unraveling of one teen boy's life from loss to obsession through the eyes of another boy who is also suffering . The verse is brilliant and effectively captures the narrator, Andy's alienation and self-loathing while detailing Blake's breakdown and inability to cope. Van Cleave's poems enable the reader to feel genuine empathy for these two boys. Andy is alienated because of his social status - his father is the school janitor. In contrast, Blake who lives in a wealthy gated community was a popular student a year ago but is not coping with a significant loss in his life.

What I also thought was interesting about this book was how Van Cleave had Andy try to explore why the gun had such a hold on him. What did the gun offer Andy that he lacked and what did it mean to carry something like this around?

I highly recommend this book for young teen boys. It's a quick read with an interesting storyline.

Book Details:
Unlocked by Ryan G. Van Cleave
New York: Walker & Company
169 pp.

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