No Right Thing
No Right Thing
“I’m upset because it’s my life! I want to make my own decisions! I don’t want you to sacrifice for me.”
“You’re my daughter, Cate. I’d do anything for you. I thought you knew that.”
Anything that fits into his view of what my life should look like. “Is that why you chose English over photography? For me?”
The colour on his ears spreads down his neck. “Cynthia told you.” His voice is tight.
“Yes. And she told me you guys were totally in love once too and she thought you could make it but mistakes were made. On both sides,” I emphasize.
I wait for him to admit the mistakes were more his than hers, because I am sure that was the case. But he steers things back to work. “It’s hard making a living as a photographer, especially when you’re raising a child alone. It would have been a mistake going down that road. Becoming an English professor was the right thing to do. I’m asking you to do the right thing too.”
The right thing. I’ve lived my life trying to do the right thing. And this is where it gets me? “Dad! Why aren’t you hearing me? I want to go to Chef’s Apron. I want your blessing.”
His mouth gapes. “What has gotten into you, Cate? You’re so argumentative tonight.”
“Honestly, Dad, I think this is more about you than me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You don’t love being an English professor. You always talk about how you can’t wait to retire so you can travel and take pictures. I think the fact that I want to follow my dream reminds you of what you gave up.”
His lips thin. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not being ridiculous. I think you’re angry and disappointed and I think it’s too painful for you to think about it so you’re punishing me.” Nana’s right. I might have to move forward without Dad’s blessing. For sure I need to think outside the box.
“Sending you to Paris isn’t a punishment.”
“No. It’s a bribe.” I stand up. “And I don’t take bribes.”
His silence follows me out of the room.”
Cate is just finishing high school, works at the local Fine Foods emporium and has her eye on a place in a prestigious culinary school in the fall. Always trying to do the right thing, Cate doesn’t hesitate to save day-old bakery products to give to Max, a homeless man whom she has befriended. When she and her friend Noah see Max’s bicycle veering toward an oncoming truck, they rush in and save him from serious injuries, or worse. But this apparent good deed has unforeseen and unpredictable consequences when Max turns out to be a well-known musician, missing and presumed dead for 15 years. His reappearance brings media hordes to the small town of Qualicum Beach, including Cate’s mother Cynthia who left the family to pursue her journalism career when Cate was only two-years-old.
Laura Langston gives her young adult readers a fascinating main character who will resonate with them long after they finish reading the novel. Cate becomes more and more independent and self-assured as the book progresses, eventually dealing with public events such as an award ceremony with the local major and a speech at her commencement ceremony. Inwardly, she also grows and matures as she insists on following her educational dreams despite her father’s opposition. She also learns more about herself as she interacts with new people in her life, such as love interest Noah, and the reappearance of her mother whose motives for coming back into Cate’s life are questionable at best.
The overarching theme of the novel is the interpretation of doing the right thing in various circumstances. Cate is fiercely protective of the homeless Max and wants the best for him, but when does helping become meddling? When does lending a hand become overprotective mothering? Cate learns how difficult it is to allow those close to you to make their own decisions, even when your instincts tell you they are wrong. Can we ever know what is right for other people? Cate’s relationship with Max is mirrored in the events which happen between her and her father. In that case, Cate resents her father’s wish to control her, and this eventually leads to her asking herself some tough questions as she, in turn, wishes she could control Max and his actions.
Throughout the novel, Cate must make many difficult decisions, some of which go against her natural inclination to do the right thing. Her father sums it up nicely when he says, “Sometimes there is no right thing. Sometimes you’re caught between two bad choices.” (p. 231)
While such moral dilemmas are the core of the novel, there are other interesting themes to ponder. Cate’s mother has chosen to pursue her career goals and follow her dreams rather than raise her child. Journalists descend on Qualicum Beach, anxious to hear Max’s story. But whose interests do they really have at heart? Cate’s father is happy in his relationship with his partner Parker, and so gender issues are a part of the story. And last, but certainly not least, Langston looks at death and grieving and their psychological effects on her characters.
The book flows easily and quickly, and young adult readers will enjoy the sparks of romance between Cate and Noah as well as the suspenseful side of the story as they learn the truth about who Max was and why he abandoned a successful music career and ended up on the streets.
Mystery, romance and enough themes to keep readers talking for hours! Langston’s No Right Thing is a terrific novel which deserves a place on bookshelves everywhere.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, Ontario.