Teenagers have enough trouble trying to establish an identity in normal circumstances, so you can only imagine the difficulty Chelsea Marchand faces in forging an identity as the daughter of a politician father who requires her to present a certain public persona while he runs for prime minister. Worse yet, Chelsea knows her father is a conniving, corrupt man incapable of showing people who he really is.
Chelsea, 17, is facing more problems than she handle in Dreams Beyond the Shore, the newly released 2016 CODE Burt Award winning Young Adult (YA) novel by Tamika Gibson. When Chelsea meets Kyron, her situation becomes even more complicated.
Dreams Beyond the Shore is a character-driven novel with its fair share of suspense and conflicts. The novel whitewashes nothing as it captures the political bacchanal of Trinidad for a Young Adult (YA) audience. Realistic dialogue propels the story forward and engulfs readers in a web of deceit as Chelsea and Kyron, a boy from the other side of the tracks, forge a friendship and try to navigate their way through life.
So far the Burt Awards have featured a wide variety of well-written books that appeal to Young Adult (YA) readers. The 2016 winner, however, stands out for its ability to present complex notions of politics and self-identity for YA readers. The novel explores identity, family, relationships, political consciousness, political corruption and political posturing. It is a smart, age-appropriate love story that explores how class divisions impact on relationships.
Gibson uses a dual narrator so that Chelsea and Kyron can present their own distinct voices and stories. Determined Chelsea and flirty Kyron are both attracted to each other, but life has taught them to be cautious and suspicious of people. They must navigate their way through a socio-economic divide that sometimes seems insurmountable.
“I not on rich girls at all,” says Kyron. “I couldn’t deal with the pretentions. I rather have an average looking, down-to-earth girl…”
Gibson does an admirable job of making political issues relevant to teenagers and credible for YA readers in an entertaining way that does not diminish the importance of these issues that teens should be aware of in these times.
“But the only thing Trinis liked smoother than their rum was their leader,” Kyron says. “Plus, we had a habit of voting with bad-mind anyway. Not electing leaders we liked, just spiting and sending home the ones we didn’t.”
Characters operate on multi-dimensional levels. Both Chelsea and Kyron have manipulative fathers who try to control their children’s lives. Chelsea’s father controls voters. He wants her to have a polished image as a future prime minister’s daughter; Kyron’s father controls his wife and wants to control Kyron’s life by deciding his career path.
Chelsea and Kyron face pressure from their parents to conform to their wishes and their lifestyle. Both teens are forced to examine the role of women in society because they have traditional mothers who are dependent on their fathers.
Education becomes an important conflict in this novel as Chelsea faces the pressure of exams and the decision of whether to pursue secondary studies in the US or elsewhere.
Dreams Beyond the Shore is a worthy first-place winner of the CODE Burt Award. Its bold themes, realistic dialogue and thought-provoking conflicts create a compelling novel for YA readers to explore the problems that teenagers must face while presenting topics, such as politics, which teens should be aware of as they prepare themselves for the challenges of being an adult.