Title: The Chaos
Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Date: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012
In many ways, Sojourner “Scotch” is a typical teenager. She must navigate between her “good girl” persona when at home with her strict parents and her saucier persona at school, where she is a member of a hip hop dance crew. She has broken up with her boyfriend, and her (former) best friend is sniffing around him. And in many ways, Scotch’s problems are unique. She is the light-skinned daughter of a mixed race couple, so she has to deal with the “what are you?” questions all the time. Her older brother has just come back from juvie after being busted by her parents for having marijuana. And a couple more things: Scotch has a weird skin condition, where black, sticky splotches appear on her skin, and she’s been seeing floating horse heads swooping around everywhere. Scotch thinks she’s going mad, and keeps this information tightly under wraps.
All that changes one night when the world goes topsy-turvy. A volcano sprouts up in the middle of Lake Ontario. Pterosaurs and Sasquatches appear on the street. People begin to sprout weird things over their bodies, like flowers. And everyone can see the “Horseless Headmen.” Folkoric creatures stalk the street—most notably, the Russian witch Baba Yaga. As madcap as all this seems, there is a darker aspect to this surrealistic disaster. Deaths have been reported, and several countries declare war against one another. And Scotch’s brother is missing—disappeared into thin air.
Hopkinson does not provide an explanation for the sudden influx of insanity into the world, which is dubbed The Chaos. There is some speculation about it being the manifestation of people’s madnesses, but that is just briefly touched upon. Instead, the narrative focuses on Scotch and her immediate problems. In addition to the dangers of this newly transformed world, Scotch must find her missing brother while dealing with her gradual transformation into a living Tar Baby.
Scotch is the narrator of the tale, and her style is peppery and colloquial. As a result, The Chaos shares its literary lineage with “mad romp” books as Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth. Humor and horror go hand in hand in that sort of fiction, and that’s the case here. Some of Scotch’s Jamaican background comes vividly to life, in the form of remembered Brer Rabbit stories and an eerie creature that serves as an antagonist, called the Rolling Calf. The Toronto that she lives in is multi-ethnic and her milieu is very tolerant of differences—there are gay characters and subplots in the novel. As is the case with many “mad romp” books, the plot is episodic and loosey-goosey.
After so many dark YA books that feature dystopias and bleak futures, The Chaos is a rollicking, frolicking breath of fresh air. Hopkinson lets her imagination run wild. While the book is about finding ones identity and touches on some serious issues, it is mostly a rollercoaster ride into the Id, full of thrills and chills.
Craig Laurance Gidney is the author of Sea Swallow Me and Other Stories and the recently released Bereft. Gidney writes both contemporary, young adult and genre fiction. Recipient of the 1996 Susan C. Petrey Scholarship to the Clarion West writer’s workshop, Gidney has published works in the fantasy/science fiction, gay and young adult categories.