Dark secrets lurk backstage
Teen romance is not everything it appears to be
THE TAMING By Eric Walters and Teresa Toten Doubleday, $14.95
In high school, as in life, it seems, all the world’s a stage. There are the kids who get the spotlight, and others who fade into the backdrop. Theatre and role playing are a central theme of The Taming by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten. The book’s title comes from The Taming of the
Shrew, and the plot revolves around a high school production of Shakespeare’s play.
Katie is a shy girl who works very hard at not being seen. By some miracle, she has recently been befriended by two other outcasts. Lisa is super smart, a little bitter and maybe a little crazy. Travis is an Emo whose sexual identity is a bit confusing, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The trio make for an unlikely gang, but really, they’re the same kind of people that you will see at any school, just with a different menu of issues.
Katie likes to feel invisible because in the past, bad things have happened to her when she gets noticed. But when the drama teacher makes her the lead in the play, she finds a passion for the state: “Acting hit me like a sucker punch and I loved, loved, loved it! ... Invisible Katie became visible Katherina.”
Evan, the new boy at school, couldn’t be more different. His family is rich, he has attended the best private schools and he loves getting attention. He knows he can use his charm to get through almost any situation. He could have the pick of any girl in the school, but once he meets Katie, he can’t look away.
Soon the two of them are inseparable, and when Evan has to step in to fill the role of Petruchio in the play, Katie believes life is perfect. Well, perfect apart from her mom, who treats Katie like a burden, and the fact that Katie is so busy with Evan that she never sees her friends anymore. She has Evan, and that’s all that matters. But she slowly realizes that Evan can put on a very good act and might not be everything he seems.
Unfortunately, The Taming’s cover makes it look like a cheesy romance, and the promotional blurb doesn’t help much, either: “Is it the power of love, or a love of power?”
It is indeed a love story of sorts, but a tragic one. As the authors say in a note to readers, it “deals with issues that are dark and difficult.”
The story unfolds from the firstperson viewpoints of Katie and Evan, with different fonts indicating who is talking. We gradually learn about Evan, with more and more clues about the secret in his past. We see that he is not always the nicest guy in the world, but we also see that he can be. A big shadow is cast over his life by his domineering father.
Katie’s story is full of irony, in the theatrical sense, as readers see her make decisions that will not be in her own interest. And as Katie grows into her role of Katherina, she starts questioning the meaning of “taming.”
It is never explained how the coauthors divided the writing, but it could explain some inconsistencies. For example, Katie mentions the horror movie Carrie (“the 1976 one with Sissy Spacek, not the 2002 poseur version”) a few times in the first few chapters, but then the reference is dropped. Also, we never really learn what the drama teacher thinks about Evan. Evan realizes his charms don’t work on her, but it’s not clear why.
Katie’s mother is another example: In some scenes, the writers want the readers to like her, or at least, feel sorry for her, but she is often really mean to Katie, and sometimes just pathetic. After her mother suffers a setback with yet another boyfriend, Katie assesses her mother’s performance: “Act One, inconsolable, heart-shredding tears; Act Two, hugging and healing; and then Act Three, recriminations, shame about the first two acts. Mom always felt bad about needing me, afterwards. It was a three-act, three-scotch scenario.”
However, the story is well told and the characters well drawn, as we would expect from two veteran writers of young adult fiction. With its focus on the nature of friendship, the complications of relationships and the pain of growing up, this book probably will appeal mostly to teenage girls. But there is a message for boys, too, especially if they have a taste for Shakespeare.