Review by Greg Guevara, a human being who wastes the majority of his time and money in university. He has what could hypothetically pass as a blog at Inbreak.
The teenager. A fascinating yet oft-misunderstood creature ruled, some say, by 1 part logic, 2 parts emotion, and 3 parts hormones. It is difficult to find a realistic portrayal of teenagers, in books as well as movies. Too often they are depicted as needlessly rebellious, barely capable of listening to sensible adults, let alone making decisions for themselves. Thankfully, Laurie Stewart’s A Test of Loyalty is a welcome break from this view of the teenaged mind. Her self-described “gritty” young adult novel is a unique view at working class teenage life in Ottawa. “Gritty” is right—not much is held back from Stewart’s writing. The book’s beginning themes range from broken families to abusive households and just get darker from there. The problems of our three teenaged protagonists, Samantha, Ashleigh and Faraj, only seem to compound as the story goes on, and each one of them inevitably comes face-to-face with their own Test of Loyalty.
Samantha and Ashleigh begin as foils for one another: Samantha the pretty white girl brought low by economic misfortune, and Ashleigh the Native juvenile delinquent with enough street smarts to help her survive the tough area she lives in. As the plot develops we see tough-girl Ashleigh sound more like “white-girl” Samantha, while Samantha delves into illicit activities befitting juvenile delinquents. These interactions and the collision between two very different worlds drives much of the interest of the story.
The real standout character, though, is Faraj. A Muslim boy who steals the heart of every girl who looks at him, Faraj is desperate to fit in with his extremist family. While A Test of Loyalty alternates between its three protagonists, Faraj is by far the most engrossing. His character can go from calling virtually every female character a whore in one chapter, to justifying his language in a manner that almost makes us understand his point of view—and that’s a testament to Stewart’s incredible ability to make us sympathize with someone on a fast track to terrorism.
Stewart nails the teenage thought process. Her prose is perfect for easy reading, capturing the straightforward reasoning of the teenaged mind. Only occasionally does the prose slip into poetics, but it never lingers there long before returning to the very realistic thoughts of our interesting protagonists.
The climax is an explosive collision of storylines, and the aftermath leaves dozens of hanging threads to hook us into reading Stewart’s sequel to this novel, which she’ll be releasing excerpts of on her website. The book ends on notes that fit well with her realistic theme—there are no happy endings in life, and problems are solved just as often as they take new forms.
A Test of Loyalty is a book that could have been written by a teenager—and I mean that in the best way possible. Too often young adult fiction remembers the hormones of adolescence, the bad choices and the worse attitudes. Stewart’s novel has all of that and more, but carries with it a personality that makes her characters all at once infuriating, delightful, and all too relatable.