Mosaic, Deborah Jackson’s sixth young adult novel, involves young lovers, pirates, murder, ghosts and hockey; in short, something for everyone. The Ottawa-based writer has structured a suspenseful, action-filled novel which will appeal to an older teen audience.
Erin Rocheford, the co-protagonist, is the 17-year-old daughter of a former NHL player. She plays hockey on mixed teams and aspires to stardom until a car accident shatters her body and her dream. As the novel opens, she and her parents and younger sister are going to a Sanibel Island, Florida, resort, so she can recuperate in the sun.
One of the characters says that Erin looks “like she’s been ripped apart, then stitched, glued and soldered back together again.” Her nightmares and flashbacks to tense moments on the ice, and to the car accident, sound like post-traumatic stress disorder. Though she has some difficulty walking, she can bicycle, and explores the island.
On the sand she finds an old-looking jewel-studded ivory comb. Concealed by shrubbery, she overhears some teenagers on the beach talking about a beheading. In retreating, she rustles the bushes and attracts the attention of a young man and woman who find her. Erin is angry at the girl’s reaction to her damaged face, and takes off on her bicycle.
Riding along, she becomes aware of someone on a Harley in hot pursuit. When a voice says, “He will kill you. Hide quickly,” she turns into the bird sanctuary. The young man who has followed her, Carlos Ramirez (her co-protagonist), finds her sitting on a mound of shells – with her hand on a skull.
Mosaic is presented in the third person, alternating between Carlos’s and Erin’s points of view. Frequently, Erin’s chapters begin with a hockey-related insight which applies to life in general. In the first 25 pages, Jackson introduces the key plot ingredients.
Good readers in their late teens ought to be able to handle the many time and scene shifts at the start of the novel; indeed, some will realize that Jackson’s fragmented approach to narration ties in with Erin’s patched-together body, and with images of shattered glass from the accident. Furthering the mosaic motif, the scenes in a later chapter are presented in reverse order to show how Erin’s “confused brain” recalls them.
When Erin and Carlos report the discovery of the skull to the Fort Myers police, they are greeted with suspicion because of Erin’s scarred face and Carlos’s reputation. (His fondness for fast driving, his modest family background in a fisherman’s family, and his indifference to school work against him.) When the shell mound is excavated, two ancient skeletons are found.
Meanwhile, Erin feels her personality being taken over by someone beautiful from long ago. “Am I possessed?” she wonders. Worse, the invasive personality sometimes feels great rage toward Carlos, as if he were a stand-in for someone from long ago. Erin asks Carlos’s help in investigating the skeletons and the historical events of the area so that she can understand who is trying to possess her.
The young lovers’ adventures, which include sneaking into a morgue to get forensic information, arouse the ire of a police detective and Erin’s father. Both Erin and Carlos have a certain arrogance which the author balances with more appealing qualities. Readers will sympathize with Erin’s physical injuries and her tendency to put herself down as “not a babe” who appeals to boys, but they will find her confrontational attitude less endearing. Although she is her father’s favourite, she locks horns with him rather than persuading him to understand her needs.
Carlos’s surly attitude is balanced by his admiration of Erin’s independent nature; he finds her unusual, compared to his previous girlfriend, whom, he says, was “good for only one thing.” His efforts to go outside his comfort zone on Erin’s behalf win the respect of her father and of a forensic archaeology professor. These older men help him imagine a bigger future for himself than he had envisioned.
Mosaic keeps readers on their toes until the last page, where a cliffhanger ending suggests a sequel. Jackson, who has published five other young adult books, considered Mosaic an “experiment in structuring a novel to match its theme”. Her experiment is definitely a success.