by Wendy Phillips
Published by Coteau Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
“Baggage”, written by Wendy Phillips and published by Coteau Books is a fantastic teen read that covers dark themes with the seriousness that fits the subject matter and a narrative device that is relevant to young readers.
The story begins at the Vancouver airport and is set in British Columbia as a young, unidentified foreign boy is found near International Arrivals by a Canadian high school teacher named Ms. Nelson and one of her students Brittany. The boy has no family or friends in sight, no identification and appears to be malnourished. To make matters worse, he does not speak any languages that anyone in the airport understands. Understandably concerned, the teacher takes the boy to the customs office only to find that their only solution is to deport the boy as he is unidentified and claim that he may not even be protected by child protection laws. They take the boy, Thabo, into their homes to protest the deportation and to protect him at all costs. It is now up to Ms. Nelson, Brittany, her sister Leah, and their friend Kevin to inspire their school and their community to keep Thabo in Canada.
The novel is written in such a unique manner that is appropriate for young readers and undeniably poetic. Rather than following a traditional novel structure, the story instead progresses with short perspectives from each main character, including Thabo. At first, Thabo is a complete mystery, only short memories and actions that other characters notice provide a window into his young but troubled life. As Leah, the sister of the politically involved Brittany begins to learn Thabo’s native tongue the reader begins to get a glimpse into Thabo’s life. After Thabo takes sanctuary with a frustrated minister in the local church, disaster strikes and Thabo is taken by those that had abandoned him at the airport. The teenage characters Leah, Kevin, and Brittany showcase their true bravery as they go to rescue their new friend Thabo. The reader also learns that the community’s fears are real, that Thabo is a victim of human trafficking.
In conclusion, “Baggage” is a great read for a young reader to explore different writing styles and an enlightening adventure for adults that can be read within a day. Even though almost every page is from the perspective of a different character, the narrative works splendidly within this style. Phillips treats the reader to both a cohesive story and to truly breathtaking character development that stays with the reader long after the final page has closed.
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