J. E. Solinski. A Matter of Control. Bloomington IN: Westbow, 2015. Print.
Do not be put off by the cover art or awkward title, A Matter of Control is a decent young adult novel.
Very simply, the author tells the story of five different people who all have a connection to Montgomery High School on Detroit’s West Side. Nowadays, Detroit is probably the bleakest city in America. Still there are thousands of people trying to make a decent go of it. We meet some of those people and their families.
Reba is a freshman from a poor but hard-working black family. When she was in elementary school, she taught her parents to read. Now she is eager to take her place in high school, especially its acting classes and drama program.
Travis is two years ahead of Reba and accompanies her and her younger siblings to school every day. He is not sweet on Reba or anything like that. He just likes the family and does not want anything to happen to them. He is one of the leaders in a gang and wants to keep Reba’s family out of trouble. Travis’s mother is a drug-addicted prostitute. He knows his life has not offered him much, but also is smart enough to realize that gang life is a dead end.
Alex is a star football player for the high school. He is a white boy in a school that is eighty percent black. He is accepted by everyone, though, because of his athletic skills until he starts missing practice for tutoring sessions. He is sixteen but never learned to read. The coach and his English teacher know his secret, but his shame makes him unwilling to let anyone know the real reason why he is skipping practice.
Mrs. Richards is the English teacher of all three of these students and is trying to help them all. Reba is a natural actress. Travis writes well, and Mrs. Richards arranges an internship for him at a city newspaper. She also makes arrangements for Alex’s tutoring.
Mrs. Richards’ only child Danny is a freshman at nearby Wayne State University. We soon realize that Danny has started using drugs, and Travis is his dealer.
In this scenario everyone has secrets. As long as they keep the secrets, they feel like they are in control—except that things are going wrong for all of them precisely because they are hiding something.
Most young adult readers would likely relate to one of more of the characters in the book. It is definitely worth reading. It might appeal to reluctant readers because of its subject matter. (I think of the appeal of S. E. Hinton, for example.)
I lived for a while many years ago in the Detroit ghetto on the East Side. The book is authentic to its setting, though it is not culturally specific to Detroit, so it could apply to many other school situations as well. In that sense, it is a bit different from Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, which is so specific that it could only take place in Detroit. Still A Matter of Control is the real deal.