The Traz (Book One of The BackTracker Series): School Edition – Eileen Schuh – (2012, Imajin Books, Canada)
Hard-hitting and gritty, Eileen Schuh’s pull-no-punches novel The Traz is certain to elicit a deep emotional response – and, hopefully, inspire some critical thought and discussion about serious issues such as depression, suicide, gangs, drugs, violence, and crime.
Thirteen-year-old Katrina is no squeaky-clean heroine: thanks to a tumultuous home life, she’s already deeply embedded in the underworld, privy to, and participating in, drug deals and other shady activity. Katrina is a genius, far smarter than other kids her age, and she doesn’t fit in – she prefers the excitement of the wheeling and dealing on the street to the bullying she gets at school. An inheritance from her maternal grandfather has made her wealthy, and his teachings about computers have helped Katrina get a finger on the pulse of the burgeoning cybercrime movement that accompanies the rise of the Internet (the books are set in the early ’90s). Despite the inattention of her preoccupied father and alcoholic mother, Katrina gets by on her intelligence and clever subterfuge, until her relationship with her much-older boyfriend takes a bad turn, and sudden tragic circumstances make her an orphan. Alone, overcome with grief, and uncertain where to turn, Katrina is taken under the protection of a biker named Shrug, and is instantly plunged into the world of the biker gang The Traz.
Of course, everyone within The Traz has their own agenda and Katrina finds she must constantly walk a tightrope to survive. Secrets, lies and betrayals of trust are par for the course – no one is quite who they seem, even Katrina herself, who is at times a highly vulnerable little girl and others, a mature woman full of dark, powerful wisdom. (I was particularly drawn to Katrina’s knowledge of woodland plants and their uses, lore she learned from her paternal grandmother. The legacy of her grandparents is an integral theme, offering a stark contrast to Katrina’s “family ties” to The Traz). When undercover cop Chad infiltrates the gang and enters Katrina’s world, things really heat up – could there be life outside the gang for Katrina? (We’ll have to wait on pins and needles to find out – the new novel, Fatal Error, doesn’t come out until later this year).
Schuh’s deft, tight writing doesn’t give the reader much room to breathe: the action and dialogue are visceral, relentless, and blisteringly fast. The language is “street” and very strong – there is absolutely nothing sanitized about this book, which makes it all the more relevant. The addition of a study guide will be helpful for educators, parents, and teens, as this is a book that simply begs to be discussed.