I read a good part of Streaks of Blue but I was having such a hard time reading it and I felt horrible because Mr. Chaucer had contacted me to give me a code to use to get the book at a later time if I missed getting it from NetGalley. I wanted very badly to read the whole thing just out of respect for him. But I just found myself putting the book down and not picking it up again and finding myself looking for other things to read.
It wasn’t the subject matter. At the beginning of the year I read the title Columbine by Dave Cullen and as disturbing as it was I read the entire book. I am bipolar and I don’t think mental health is addressed enough when tragedies like Columbine or Newtown happen in our time or if you are looking 30 years ago at Brenda Ann Spencer who killed 2 and wounded nine others in a school shooting in San Diego. We like to think of this as something new but really tragedy has always plagued mankind. The difference now is just CNN covers it so we tune in to it more often now. Whether it is massacres on the Frontier in the 18th century, father’s wiping out their families in the face of debt in the dust bowl, or a fourteen year old soccer player killing the sweet teacher everyone loved–subscribing trivia to tragedy can only get us through so many nights. Sooner or later something wakes us up and the terror of it is the stuff of our worst nightmares come true. Suddenly we can’t sleep because we think that the monsters are new and have suddenly come for us where we live.
Streaks of Blue by Jack Chaucer is one of those books that I can honestly say, would be perfect for another person. It would fall under that cliche of “not my cup of tea.” I think his heart was in the right place when he wrote it and it’s probably as cathartic for him to have written something like this that saved children from a fate that the children of Newtown suffered as it is for many people to read it and feel like they have witnessed the same thing in reading it. Sometimes all we need is a little comfort to feel like we are part of a greater good. A book like this one is that literary hug between strangers to soothe heartache.
The novel begins with Nikki and her friend Candace camping in the mountains of the Presidential Mountain Range of New Hampshire. Nikki is stirred by a dream she has which charges her with saving the lives of her schoolmates and befriending potential powder keg by the name of Adam Upton. The dream classroom of children and teacher tell her she must bring Adam to 14th and Stardust–an address which has significance when she wakes because both those words show up in a note her mom has written and included in a special treat sent with her on her camping trip that she reads only after having the dream. Nikki’s mission isn’t quite as simple as it seems though. Adam Upton is friends with the creepiest guy in school Thomas “Lee” Harvey–fond of referring to classmates as “dead guys/girls walking”. Not a cry for help at all. Facing the callousness of the ignorant, prejudice of the judgemental, the intolerance of those who feel entitled and the fear of those who just don’t understand Nikki tries to pull together the strings of a fraying high school landscape before the unthinkable happens.
The book abounds in symbolism and metaphor, like two good friends speaking in code togive one another comfort. The chapters I read made me think very much of Sunday School and all of the stories and allegories and parables. It didn’t get by me that Adam was named after the first man and Lee Harvey was named after an assassin. Mr. Chaucer sneaks in some lyrics by The Police referring to King of Pain and Murder by Numbers which lead to a philosophical conversation about interpretation and appropriateness. To which I would have enjoyed my five minutes in the class just to argue that discourse and dialogue is the best remedy for inappropriate nature of anything.
I read to chapter 14 and the symbolism above continues throughout the book. Nikki, who is very much the good samaritan, prophet and savior in this book not only is charged with the redemption of Adam Upton but also in the reprogramming of the minds of those in her ecosystem. Trying to teach people the value of compassion and hope for a future that few of them ever even question as being in danger. All the while she is battling the injustice of bias and judgement of the many haters in and around her who all seem to know everything and be the final word on all things great and small. I think value judgement is probably one of the things that is most strongly focused on in the book. Nikki is fighting with Candace’s fear of not only Adam and Lee Harvey’s sketchy attitudes and the doomed prediction of 12:14 but also Candace’s fear of their poverty and differentness from herself. Also the harassment by Valerie who also has a huge chip on her shoulder and a wealth of entitlement based on where she lives. And the strange stigmata that is at Nikki’s school regarding lower and upperclassmen. I guess since I came from a school that only had about 600 people total, I wouldn’t understand that. If you prejudiced yourself in my school it basically meant that you cut down the dating pool by a good 60%. But in Adam and Nikki’s school they obviously have enough people where you can segregate classes.
Jack Chaucer does one thing that did speak to me and that is he does an incredible job of showing the nebulous quality of modern day family. I think this is just because I fought many years to sew together the loose and torn edges of my family life back together, but I could identify with the daily growing chasm between Nikki and her mother. And because of the mental illness and addiction in my family I could also connect with the devastation and waste of Adam and Brody’s relationship with their Father.
It’s so easy to look at what happens with these school tragedies and say these kids played too many violent video games. Or listened to too much angry music. They are a product of abusive fathers or drunken and druggy mothers. Gun control in America is the issue as to why teen violence is so high. Internet has disconnected teens to the point where they lack the social skills to interact with one another or with society itself. Or any other finger pointing we would like to do. And you know, when there is senseless death we want to point a finger. It would be so comforting to blame something or someone. But when you really look at how tragedy at any level occurs the first strain is probably something so far back in the past and so small that even to the person who has committed the unthinkable it isn’t even something they can remember. The first moment of insecurity. The first second they second guessed themselves, all the way back in the earliest part of their childhood was so far back that you would be able to give that instance a name much letter point at the reason and issue the blame is simply impossible.
Family is so important because they are that stop-loss when that first moment of insecurity happens, that it doesn’t become a log jam later on. Family is what makes it not be a mountain of rejection. Not a world of self doubt. I’m not saying that a family always works that way. That by the rite of having a parent removes the hurt. And I’m not saying that some people are not born murderers, because sociopaths do exist. I am saying that not everyone who kills was born that way. Some people need a better stop-loss. They need a net so when they don’t know how to cope someone can catch them. I think Mr. Chaucer did an excellent sketch of this with Adam. He illustrated how he had that log jam and how Brody was really getting the overflow from all the build-up there. It was also a really good view of how in the absence of support pain and anger searches for itself. I think that maybe a little bit more research could have gone into the psychology of a person with borderline personality disorder to understand motivation beyond what the general fiction of a school shooter is believed to be. But really this was a phenomenal sketch of a families in distress. A young man in crisis.
One of the difficulties I faced reading this book was with the voice of the characters. To me Nikki’s voice always felt very wrong. She was just a touch too self righteous part of the time, her interactions with Candace felt a little like she was some sort of alien plant to me at others. I think it might have been in that Mr Chaucer wrote the book extremely formally. Almost like it was a crime novel. He addresses each character clinically rather than as a member of a family. It is a little like Dragnet, the facts and just the facts. Reading a lot of YA, I’m used to reading a great deal of first person POV and very warm introductions. Perhaps if the frame weren’t so cold the voices wouldn’t have felt so awkward to me. And the other part was I felt that a lot of the teen girl interaction was overdone. It was the TV version of stereotyping that is insulting to teen girl interaction everywhere. My sister is a seventeen year old girl and I know they can be catty and horrible trolls. It just always felt like I was watching two characters from The OC or 90210 when Melanie or Valerie or whomever spoke to Nikki. And I know it was a plot device but no where outside of Rumble Fish and The Outsiders would we be dealing with such a wealth of class waring. Not EVERYONE can be vile and prejudice.
I did not finish Mr. Chaucer’s book and I can’t speak to more than I did read. I think this book would be a great recommendation for teens. I think it would also be a really great read for parents with small children or anyone who was deeply affected by the tragedy in Newtown. It might not be the best book for people who read a great deal of YA and look for strong young adult voice.
Jack Chaucer promises half the proceeds from each sale of Streaks of Blue to the Newtown Memorial Fund. He does keep updates of the amounts which have been donated on his blog! The Newtown Memorial Fund Facebook needs you to Like and Support it too!