It can be difficult for adult authors to write about teenagers. Most of us try to block out the more unpleasant memories of high school-the roving bullies, schoolyard indignities and parental punishments doled out seemingly at random. There’s also the challenge of capturing the nuances of language and behaviour peculiar to teenagers. Fortunately for us, Calgary-based author Adrian Michael Kelly didn’t back down from this challenge.
Down Sterling Road is the story of 11-year -old Jacob McKnight, a seventh-grader growing up with an authoritarian, overprotective father in a small Ontario town in the 1970s. Haunting both of them is the death of Jacob’s twin brother and a fiery divorce that saw Jacob’s mother leave for Alberta. His father responds by forcing his son into long-distance running, something Jacob tries to rebel against but loves anyway.
References to late ’70s pop culture often float to the surface. But it’s running: sometimes a slow-measured gait, other times a full-out breathless sprint, which comprises the changing currents of Down Sterling Road. Kelly harnesses this energy to tell a moving tale of loss, grief and growing up. He also effectively evokes a conflicted father-son relationship that blends paternal love, fear of loss and almost militaristic discipline. It’s a worthwhile first novel. (Ron Nurwisah)
by Adrian Michael Kelly, $21.95, 224 pgs, Coach House Books, 401 Huron St. (rear) on bpNichol Lane, Toronto, ON, M5S 2G5, chbooks.com