This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 16.4.
My thirteen-year-old son tried to read this book, but gave up because it was “too sad.” And certainly at the outset it is. The protagonist, “Joseph … Joe. Sometimes Joey” (1) is telling the story of his new life, having found himself in an adoptive home after the death of his parents, from which he is still traumatized. Not the most cheerful of beginnings, but through the mechanism of Joe’s “digital diary,” we follow him on the road towards healing. Nothing much happens, but it doesn’t happen to great effect. We meet his friends—Gloria and Dean—and we are given insight into the workings of at least this fictional teenage boy’s mind. It is an interesting and fertile narrative landscape, and Choyce tends it carefully and draws it well. There is a sensitivity in Joe’s character that made me initially think the author was a woman—which he is not—and then gave me hope that the character he creates does resemble a real teenage boy. If so, there is hope for our children, for Joe is a good friend, a caring boyfriend, and a considerate and loving son (to both sets of parents). Through Joe’s relationships and his descriptions of his home and school life, we are exposed to issues of bullying, sex, and death, and subjects as disparate as Joe Dimaggio, naturopathy, heavy metal, and Aristolean philosophy. Almost stream-of-consciousness, Joe’s digital diary reveals the wanderings of a clever young mind through the hallways of adolescence. Sometimes he seems perhaps a bit too well-read for a teen, but that is a minor flaw in an otherwise marvellously constructed character.
Despite its catch-phrase—“ If you think life makes sense, do not read this book”—Random makes sense. More, I think, for the teen reader who will relate well to the randomness of the style and the non sequiturs of Joe’s commentary than for those who only remember hazily our days at 16. As such, a very successful teen novel.