DANCE ON MY GRAVE by Aidan Chambers


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Since early childhood, Hal has longed for bosom buddyhood and dreamed of vowing solidarity in blood with another boy who would tome along with that magic tan of beans (from a children's story). Now at 16 and already becoming aware of the ""love that surpasses that of women,"" Hal in rescued from a rash sailing maneuver by 18-year-old Barry Gorman and plunged into a seven-week idyll that ends when the two fight over a girl Barry has spent the night with. Barry rushes off on his motorcycle to a fatal crash--perhaps attaining at last, Hal muses, that elusive, timeless ""bubble"" of speed he used to race to catch up with. All this, along with the details of the affair, is recalled by a devastated Hal in the period following the crash. The novel opens with a brief newspaper notice about an unnamed youth arrested for dancing on the grave of his recently deceased friend, and Hal's memories are supplemented here and there by the notes of a stiff social worker assigned to find out Hal's motives before his court hearing. We learn long before the social worker does that Hal's dance was in fulfillment of a promise to the freer-spirited Barry, who insisted that when one of them died the other would dance on his grave. Hal's other tramping, gouging antics on the grave are just another of his agonized, impulsive outbursts. One occurs when he dresses as a girl in order to view the ""boyfriend's"" body at the morgue, then blows the disguise by throwing himself at the corpse and setting off a wild commotion. Another wild scene--Chambers does them well, and knows how to shift from a passionate soliloquy on death to farcical action--occurs earlier when Hal and Barry, on Barry's motorcycle, get caught up with a gang of bikers who terrorize the beach town's waterfront amusement area. Chambers has toned down the stylistic tricks of Breaktime, but he still plays off the narrative against the events. There are ""replays"" of scenes; key events are seen from different viewpoints and, especially, from different rime perspectives; and the first-person narrative itself--which turns out to be Hal's explanation to the social worker--functions in the story as the instrument of his recovery. The memories are charged and so is the writing. Chambers' attempts to take the YA novel into the 20th century are at times self-conscious, but not pretentious. And though the feeling he brings to the still-sensitive subject matter will discomfort the guardians of teen reading, his respect for his readers requires nothing less.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1983
ISBN: 0810972611
Publisher: Harper & Row