#ripxii The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

I am always a bit wary when it comes to YA. Perhaps it’s because I am a couple of decades too old to be in its target audience. Also I have read some rather ‘meh’ ones and some ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ ones – of course ‘meh’ and ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ isn’t limited to YA.

This is Nalo Hopkinson’s first YA book.

Sojourner “Scotch” Smith is 16. She loves dancing, has just broken up with her boyfriend Tafari, is on the outs with her good friend Gloria but is still best friends with Ben, who is gay. Scotch also happens to be biracial, the daughter of a white Jamaican father and an African-American mother.

There’s a lot going on for Scotch. Her brother Rich, has been in prison, and Scotch, who is lighter-skinned than her brother, is fully aware of how they are treated differently. There’s an interesting moment in a bar when she’s being chatted up by a guy who idiotically remarks that she could pass for white. Yet while Scotch is very aware of racism, she still manages to say equally idiotic remarks about homosexuality, such as saying out loud how she’s the “only normal one” because her friends are gay.

And what’s worse, she has been getting strange blemishes on her body, which no medicine can improve. She’s also been seeing what she calls “Horseless Head Men”:

“When I’d first started seeing the Horseless Head Men, they’d been almost invisible; I’d only been able to see them when the light hit them at certain angles. But every day, they got more solid, more real. Mom might say it was a ha’nt; a ghost. Actually, she’d be more likely to say I was hallucinating and book me into the nuthouse down on Queen Street so one of her colleagues could pry my brain open with a can opener, just like had happened to Auntie Mryss. What was Dad’s word for ghosts, again? Oh, yeah; duppies. But if it was a ghost, what the rass was it a ghost of? It looked like a disembodied animal’s head, a cross between a dog’s and sea horse’s, all covered in short fur.”

Then the world just goes completely topsy turvy. No explanation at all. A volcano appears in Lake Ontario A huge two-legged house lays an egg in the street. A policewoman grows a tail. A Sasquatch. The clock towers sing the Sesame Street theme. What in the world is going on?? No one knows, not Scotch or her friends, and definitely not the reader. It was bizarre but in a fun way. I liked how there was Russian and Caribbean folklore/mythology within. I think I was just hoping that there was some semblance of an explanation. It just seemed a bit too…random.

So while I liked the main characters and thus the YA coming-of-age part of the book, I had some issues with the speculative fiction part of the book – it was fun but just needed more cohesiveness.

I read this for RIP XII


  1. Although I think I might have felt the same way in another reading mood, that was actually one of the things that I really liked about the way she told this story. Because it felt very immersive – all taking place right around the event – so our not getting explanations felt like i imagine it must have felt living in it. Especially as she was writing about my home city. I can all-too-easily imagine just not knowing what’s happened in a mess like the one she’s describing cuz it seems like we never get answers about something as simple as a power outtage!


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