From Barbies to barbarism... One starless night the Beckoners come for Zoe. They drive her out to Mill Lake and in the corner of the bandstand, in the flame of a butane torch, they heat a fork, the handle wrapped in a wad of masking tape so it won't get too hot to hold. When the tines turn orange and Zoe silently, desperately lists the constellations she cannot see-Ursa Major, Orion, Andromeda-they press the glowing fork to the flesh of her inner right arm and brand her. Now she's one of them. But 14-year-old Zoe Anderson's ordeal has only begun. She's about to discover victim and tormentor are not easily defined and how quickly the two become flipsides of the same coin.

In The Beckoners (Orca $19.95), a first novel by Carrie Mac, who was working as a child and youth advocate at a first stage transition house on the Sunshine Coast when she wrote it, Zoe is dragged from Prince George to Abbotsford by her restless, self-absorbed mother. On the second day of school, gay Simon takes Zoe out to the makeshift hut called the smoke hole and introduces her to Central High. "You've got your skids, your punks, pushers, users, Goths, slags, geeks, hippies, rejects and other standard garden variety misfits..."; There's also Teo, Simon's boyfriend, with "muscles humming all over the place"; and vicious Heather Arlington-Moore, Central's "suicide queen."; Then there's Rebecca "Beck"; Wilson, burned with a fork by her own father. She's the sly leader of The Beckoners, a "doesn't matter if you beckon or not, they come calling when they want"; girl gang. Zoe's neighbour and classmate April, better known as Dog, is a friendless, stringy-haired Christian girl with a What-Would-Jesus-Do bracelet, and she makes for an easy target. "Beck"; forces her to choke down fifty-two liver flavoured dog biscuits. She photocopies and enlarges entries from Dog's stolen journal, and plasters Central High with a poster that reveals, in Dog's own writing, her secret crush on Mr. Cromwell, the fat school counselor. Dog's windows are smashed. She finds a grisly mannequin swinging from a noose in the apple tree below her room. As the torment escalates, Zoe is drawn deeper and deeper into the Beckoners. Until meek, long-suffering Dog seeks revenge, triggering a final, climatic act of violence. According to the Canadian Children's Book News, this story of girl gangs and bullying is "at once a social critique of modern society and a chilling reminder of what happens in high school when adults bury their heads in ignorance." The Beckoners was optioned for film by Slanted Wheel Entertainment of Toronto in 2005. It has received an Arthur Ellis Award and a White Ravens Award, it was named a CLA Honour Book and it received an International Reading Association Young Adult Choice citation.

In a somewhat similar vein, Mac's second novel Charmed (2005), part of the Orca Soundings series for reluctant teen readers, deals with a drug-ridden teen named Izzy who is ensnared in a prostitution ring. It was followed by Crush (2006) [see review].

After three teen-oriented novels with Orca Books, she published the first novel in a fantasy trilogy for young adults, The Droughtlanders (Penguin, 2006), which gained her a cover story in Quill & Quire [June 2006]. Her Triskelia trilogy was completed with Retribution (2007) and Storm (2008)

Carrie Mac practices American sign language and kickboxing. She credits her own 'tortured youth' and her work in a transition house, as well as her work as an on-call paramedic in Vancouver, for her subject matter.

Featuring a paramedic, her novel Pain & Wastings (Orca 2007), referring to the intersection of Main & Hastings, includes details from a car accident she attended. "I steal directly from my patients," she told Quill & Quire, "in terms of details, traits and tragedies.... I know exactly what a beheaded head, open fractures, and blood seeping from the abdomen or intestines spilling onto the dirt look like."

Similarly, her novel The Gryphon Project was inspired by tending to a man whose ear was rubbed off by the highway during a motorcycle accident. This novel received the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize in 2010.

Carrie Mac's experiences in the Downtown Eastside continue to fuel her work. Homelessness, addiction, teen pregnancy and crime are the backdrop for her latest novel, The Way Back (Orca $9.95), in which Colby Wyatt is alone, homeless and addicted to Meth. Taken in by her friend Gigi's grandma, she joins the family business, a pawnshop where Colby, Gigi and Gigi's brother keep the shelves stocked by breaking into houses and stealing things. When Colby discovers she's pregnant, she swears she'll get clean, keep the baby and have a real family. Checking into rehab, Colby is determined to make things work and save Gigi at the same time, but sometimes no matter how much you want something, it doesn't work out.

According to Carrie Mac's website, here is a synopsis of the The Opposite of Tidy: "Fifteen-year-old Junie is barely coping. Her mother has started sleeping in the chair in front of the TV, and the house is so packed with junk, newspapers, cupboard organizers and other helpful items from the Shopping Channel that she can barely get in the front door. Her father is no help, since he's always with That Woman. To top it off, she's failing math.

"So when Wade Jaffre, the hot new guy at school, offers her a ride home from school, it seems too good to be true. Junie surprises herself by accepting-and even talking! But as they approach her house, her parents are outside, screaming at each other. Junie doesn't have to think twice about directing him on to her best friend Tabitha's house, nor about continuing the charade of pretending she lives there.

"Tabitha and her mother are understanding-and willing to go along, for the moment. But as the weeks go by, Junie's lies start piling up and the opportunity to tell the truth seems to slip away. Until the day Junie's world-and her mother's-is literally turned inside out for the world to see, and Junie and her mother must face the consequences of her mother's illness ... and the lies they both told to hide it."

BOOKS:

The Beckoners (Orca, 2004). 1-55143-309-5
Charmed (Orca, 2005). 1-55143-321-4
Crush (Orca, 2006). 1-55143-521-7.
The Droughtlanders (Penguin, 2006).
Pain & Wastings (Orca 2007).
Retribution (Penguin 2007)
Storm (Penguin 2008).
The Gryphon Project (Penguin 2009).
Jacked (Orca, 2009).
The Opposite of Tidy (Penguin, 2012). 978-0-14-31891-3 $16.00
The Way Back (Orca 2014) $9.95 9781459807150

[BCBW 2014] "Kidlit" "Downtown Eastside" "Fiction"