The Game

by Teresa Toten

Published: January 2003
Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Limited
Pages: 160
Paperback
ISBN: 9780889952324

       

Overview of The Game


Governor General's Literary Awards nominee for Children's Literature, Text

Dani Webster had played The Game with her sister, Kelly, for as long as she could remember. It was a secret quest to vanquish evil. The Game is now a hazy memory as Dani looks up from the floor of the isolation room at Riverwood Clinic. God, how did she get here? She remembers the vodka and pills.

Slowly Dani emerges from the painful effects of substance abuse, and begins to adapt to life at Riverwood, a psychiatric treatment facility for "teens with problems."

As she recovers from her physical trauma, Dani must confront a deeper emotional trauma, which at the moment she can neither explain nor recognize. There's the cool aloofness of her mother. Her father's abusive perfectionism. Kelly's refusal to answer her letters. Fragmented memories of the last Game. She can't fit all the pieces together.

The Game is an extraordinary story of betrayal, anger, guilt, confusion and dread, and their brutal effects on the mind. It also a tribute to the healing effects of compassion and friendship, and to the strength we can summon, even in our weakest moments.

Synopsis of The Game

Dani Webster had played The Game with her sister, Kelly, for as long as she could remember, but now it is a hazy memory as Dani looks up from the floor of the isolation room at Riverwood Clinic. She remember the vodka and pills.
Slowly Dani emerges from the painful effects of substance abuse, and begins to adapt to life at Riverwood, a psychiatric treatment facility for "teens with problems." Teens like her roomate, Scratch, an admitted self-mutilator. Or Scratch's friend, Kevin, whose family can't accept his homosexuality.
As she recovers from her physical trauma, Dani must confront a deeper emotional trauma. There's the cool aloofness of her mother. Her father's abusive perfectionism. Kelly's refusal to answer her letters. Fragmented memories of the last Game. She can't fit all of the pieces together.
The Game is an extraordinary story of betrayal, anger, guilt, confusion and dread and their brutal effects on the mind. It is also a tribute to the healing effects of compassion and friendship, and to the strength we can summon, even in our weakest moments.

Patti Sylvester Spencer - VOYA

Fouteen-year-old Dani Webster has just been admitted to a clinic in New York for detox. There readers meet Thurber, Dani's doctor; deeply troubled Scratch, her obsessive, self-mutilating roommate who never has visitors but welcomes Dani's friendship; and homosexual Kevin, a healthy teen rejected by his religious parents who have tried to reprogram his sexual orientation. Strong, dynamic characters also inhabit the supporting cast of Riverwood Clinic other patients, nurses, and relatives. The focus, however, is on Dani. Why does she attempt suicide? Why does her younger sister, Kelly, not write back? Why have her parents separated? Why is her father barred from visiting? Answers unfold through individual and group therapy sessions as Thurber and Dani's fellow patients gently encourage her to confront and reveal details of the secret game she played with Kelly. This game initially appears as a childhood story involving cinnamon sticks and fictional forces of good and evil but eventually turns into a psychological struggle in a dysfunctional family wrought with physical abuse, denial, and emotional turmoil. The complexities of Dani's situation unravel in a multifaceted, coherent narrative that includes letters, transcripts of therapy sessions, and memory flashbacks. Toten's prose, ripe with pop culture references, crisp dialogue, and diverse, fragmentary formats, relates a compelling tale of courage, responsibility, and recovery. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Red Deer Press, 208p,

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Editorials

Children's Literature

Following an unsuccessful suicide attempt, thirteen-year-old Danielle Webster is admitted by her mother into a psychiatric treatment facility for adolescents. While there, she is befriended by two other patients; Scratch is a self-mutilator who is kind and gentle despite her tough exterior, and Kevin is a homosexual whose parents refuse to accept his sexual identity and hope therapy will result in a conversion of sorts. With their help and that of the facility staff, Dani summons the courage to admit her father's abuse, her mother's disengagement, and her younger sister's death. The elaborate fantasy game developed by Dani and her young sister, designed to help them escape reality, is no longer needed once Dani realizes her own strength and refuses to blame herself for the tragedies of her childhood. This novel is a remarkable work of fiction. Toten delves into a frightful world but does so with sensitivity, compassion, and power. Her characters are memorable in their depth and complexity. Adolescent readers, even those not dealing with the severity of issues here, will relate to Dani's struggle to make sense of who she is. Employing several forms (third-person narrative, letters, transcripts of psychiatric evaluations, and personal remembrances), the novel conveys a realistic portrait of life among troubles teens, often difficult, always sincere. Some may claim the subject matter is potentially too harsh and emotionally charged for adolescent readers. Toten, however, avoids graphic sensationalism and tells a story that is honest, engaging, and worthwhile. 2001, Red Deer Press/Calgary, $7.95. Ages 14 to 17. Reviewer: Wendy Glenn

VOYA

Fouteen-year-old Dani Webster has just been admitted to a clinic in New York for detox. There readers meet Thurber, Dani's doctor; deeply troubled Scratch, her obsessive, self-mutilating roommate who never has visitors but welcomes Dani's friendship; and homosexual Kevin, a healthy teen rejected by his religious parents who have tried to reprogram his sexual orientation. Strong, dynamic characters also inhabit the supporting cast of Riverwood Clinic—other patients, nurses, and relatives. The focus, however, is on Dani. Why does she attempt suicide? Why does her younger sister, Kelly, not write back? Why have her parents separated? Why is her father barred from visiting? Answers unfold through individual and group therapy sessions as Thurber and Dani's fellow patients gently encourage her to confront and reveal details of the secret game she played with Kelly. This game initially appears as a childhood story involving cinnamon sticks and fictional forces of good and evil but eventually turns into a psychological struggle in a dysfunctional family wrought with physical abuse, denial, and emotional turmoil. The complexities of Dani's situation unravel in a multifaceted, coherent narrative that includes letters, transcripts of therapy sessions, and memory flashbacks. Toten's prose, ripe with pop culture references, crisp dialogue, and diverse, fragmentary formats, relates a compelling tale of courage, responsibility, and recovery. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Red Deer Press, 208p,
—Patti Sylvester Spencer

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