________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 24 . . . . February 27, 2015


Off the Grid. (Orca Soundings).

Lesley Choyce.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
110 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0926-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0928-4 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0877-5 (epub).

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Kim Sutcliffe.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


My mother has always said that crying doesn’t help, but it also doesn’t hurt. And I had cried plenty of times in my life, sometimes in pain, sometimes out of loneliness. But I wouldn’t cry now. It was clear I was in a world I knew nothing about. A world where people walked around staring at their phones like zombies and where you were not supposed to drink water in public. I didn’t know how to get back to the apartment. And there was no way I would walk back to the school.

I sat on the edge of the pool, remembering what my father had said about getting lost in the woods. When you get lost, stay lost for the time being. Stay put. Don’t just wander. It will make things worse. Sit down and think. Come up with a plan.


Cody Graham is a 16-year-old boy who was raised “off the grid.” He grew up in a cabin where his parents homeschooled him and taught him to hunt, fish and grow vegetables for food. There were solar panels and wind power so the family could listen to music and have light. They visited town once a month to stock up on supplies. Cody’s playground was the forest. Then Cody’s father was diagnosed with cancer and his family’s life changed drastically. They moved to the city so his father could receive treatment while Cody and his mother lived in a nearby apartment. Cody had to attend high school and learn to navigate city life and “modern” society. Cody initially encounters difficulty in high school when he tells a girl who befriends him that he hunts rabbits and deer for food. The girl, Alexis, initially vilifies Cody as a “bunny killer”, but she later becomes an ally. Cody is also befriended by a boy named DeMarco who becomes another ally after Cody defends him from local bully Austin and his goons who have targeted him on account of his homosexuality. Austin’s father then calls the police because Cody injured Austin in the fight. Cody is terrified of the police, and, after a second encounter with the bullies, he decides to run away to his home in the woods. Alexis and DeMarco agree to help him get back home along with a third friend, Ernest, a homeless man whom Cody encountered earlier in the story.

     Eventually, the friends decide that it is better that Cody remain in the city to be with his dad. Ernest goes on to the cabin in the woods to spend some time away from the city where he can deal with his alcoholism. By the end of the story, Cody adjusts to the urban lifestyle, he attempts to understand the reasons behind Austin’s need to bully, and his father recovers sufficiently to head back to their life off the grid.

     Cody is a likeable character as are his friends. The author’s attempt to have Cody understand the reason behind Austin’s bullying was a valuable addition to the narrative. Typically, a bully is dismissed as one dimensional with very little insight into what caused the negative behaviour. In this case, readers learn that Austin lost his mother when he was only 10-years-old and that he really has not experienced much tenderness in the intervening years. This type of background information serves to make the characters more real and interesting to the reader.

     The hallmark of this series is to provide high interest themes to reluctant readers. Choyce certainly accomplishes that goal in only 110 pages. Some parents/librarians may want to take note of the issues raised in this book before recommending it. Environmentalism, sexual orientation, serious illness, homelessness, bullying and alcoholism are explored. Since the novel is so brief and the language relatively simple, none of the themes is addressed or expanded upon in detail.

     While ordinarily, the brief manner in which serious issues are touched upon in Off the Grid might be a ground for criticism. However, for this audience, it is a strength. The older student will appreciate the maturity of the content, yet not become frustrated by complex word choice and dialogue.

Highly Recommended.

Kim Sutcliffe is a Vancouver, BC, lawyer.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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