October 24, 2008
A Teen Whodunit
by Natalia Jaster
I’m on the fence about this next book. Normally, I’m a fervent reader of young adult novels, and I was intrigued when I found Theodore Taylor’s The Weirdo because the story comprises an eco-centered plot, mystery and romance—a combination I hadn’t yet come across.
Samantha Sanders can’t get over the memory of finding a dead body near her home when she was nine years old. Then, at sixteen, she meets Chip Clewt, a young man who lives with his father in the swamps of the Powhatan and is labeled a recluse and a weirdo by their North Carolina town. An activist and defender of animals, Chip is determined to preserve a ban on hunting bears in the area. Living in a region where its residents thrive on hunting, Chip’s resolve earns him his share of enemies, including Samantha’s father, an eager hunter and spokesman for his set. When Chip’s mentor and employer turns up missing, Chip and Samantha’s lives intersect, turning them into investigators. They set out to discover whether this new disappearance, as well as the unsolved mystery of Samantha’s past, is linked to the illegal poaching of bears in the Powhatan.
Occasionally, the book jumps back and forth between the past and the present to illuminate details about the mystery. Regularly, chapters alternate between an omniscient narrator and Chip’s college essays about living in the Powhatan and studying its bear population. And although the manipulation of time and point-of-view are very engaging, I wish the relationship between the main characters had been just as potent.
While Chip and Samantha’s relationship provided an opportunity for a captivating match, and thus a captivating struggle with the town over animal rights, I found the connection between them a bit deflated. I’d hoped for more depth, but instead it felt as though their bond was glazed over. Reported in a matter-of-fact tone rather than delved into. Even though their devotion to the bears is indeed profound—the moments wherein they interact with the animals highlight the characters’ union and emotional investment to the greatest degree—they don’t share the same intense attachment to one another when outside of that realm. As a result, the impact of Samantha and Chip’s battle for closure, justice and ecological triumph over the external world is less stirring.
The story makes for some good afternoons curling up. And while I did enjoy reading it, it unfortunately doesn’t push itself, or the reader, as far as it had the potential to go.
Theodore Taylor, The Weirdo
Harcourt, 1991: 304pp
< Back to all blog posts