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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Review: The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

TITLE: The Chaos
AUTHOR: Nalo Hopkinson 
PUBLISHER: Margaret K. McElderry Books
PUBLICATION DATE: April 17, 2012
FORMAT: Hardcover, 256 pages
GENRE: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction/Dystopia
ISBN: 9781416954880
An acclaimed fantasy author navigates the world between myth and chaos in this compelling exploration of identity, told with a Caribbean lilt.

Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she's the perfect daughter, at school she's provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can't be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she's ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that's begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance—because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.


I received this ARC for review from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for my review, and the views expressed herein are my own. 

This is a very bizarre book!

Sixteen year-old Sojourner (nicknamed Scotch after the Scotch Bonnet Jamaican pepper for her red-hot dance moves) is the biracial daughter of a white Jamaican father and African-American mother. People often do not believe that she is “black”, and she feels that her skin is not dark enough and wishes that her contrived Jamaican accent was authentic. She has an older brother, Rich, whose skin colour is darker than her own...the colour she wishes that hers was. Her best friends are Gloria (who later turns out to be lesbian) and Ben, who is gay.

Scotch has broken up with her boyfriend, Tafari, who is close friends with her brother. She doesn’t want Tafari to find out her secret, which is that she has been developing black, sticky patches on her body that appear to be growing. She has tried creams and remedies, but nothing seems to help this bizarre skin condition. She is also afraid that she is losing her mind because she sees what she calls “Horseless Head Men,” little heads with no bodies, which appear to be invisible to everyone else.

Scotch’s parents go away for the weekend, and Rich invites Scotch to come with him to Bar None during spoken word open-mike night so that he can share his poetry. An eerie bubble appears from below the stage and gets larger as it moves across the room. Scotch dares Rich to touch it and, when he does, the world changes forever. A flash like a lightning bolt appears, and a volcano grows in the middle of Lake Ontario. Both the bubble and Rich have disappeared, and there is a large hole in the ground where the stage and bubble used to be. Now, the Horseless Head Men are visible to everyone instead of just Scotch.

Scotch sets out to try to get to find her brother as she makes her way to her Auntie Myriss’s house. She encounters many bizarre things along the way, among them a witch with a flying house named Izbouchka that has two feathered dinosaur legs that believes (the house, that is) it is a bird and even lays eggs. A black blobby mass that smells of asphalt with angry yellow eyes starts to chase Scotch, and she winds up down by the lake where she finds a woman bobbing in the water. Scotch realizes that it is her Auntie Myriss, and she rescues her. Auntie Myriss keeps asking where “Spot” is, her imaginary guard dog. Only Spot is no longer imaginary. It seems that Spot is the black tarry creature that has been chasing Scotch! Auntie Myriss tells Scotch that Spot is a “rolling calf” which can also take on different shapes such as a sweet kitten or a dog. All the while, the black, sticky patches on Scotch’s body are growing.

No one knows why The Chaos occurred, but the world survives although some people, like Scotch, are changed. Scotch always wanted to be “blacker,” and now she has her wish: A real-life tar baby.

Hopkinson is a new-to-me author, and this is her debut novel in the Young Adult genre. I wish that I knew more about Caribbean folklore to understand more of what was happening in the story, in particular the “rolling calf.” I would venture a guess that the witch with the flying house was Baba Yaga, who is portrayed in Russian folklore. There were a couple parts of the book that shocked me with respect to sexuality (no, I am not referring to the homosexuality). There was a comment about Scotch “blowing” the whole basketball team and another about masturbation, which are topics that I do not like to see in books meant for Young Adults. Is this a book that I would feel comfortable letting my teenage daughters read? I wouldn’t, but others may feel differently. I also did not care for the swearing and Scotch’s behaviour, who often deceived her parents. For example, she had what she called “real” clothes (skimpy and revealing) that she stashed away in her backpack to change into as soon as she got to school instead of the “regular” pants and tops that she wore around her conservative parents. The premise of the book was interesting, but I just could not connect with Scotch because I did not particularly like her.


  1. I agree not a novel i would want my teenage child to read either. Most YA books have to be read before passing on to a Teenager I've noticed.
    oh, I will be sending you the link for another novel from Smashwords once I get home sometime this weekend of mother. thanks for your patience. Smashwords almost put me out with using their services.

  2. This sounds all together too bizarre for me. And definitely not one I'd recommend to my teenage friends. You did a great job on the review.


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