The rent is overdue and Jackie, a compulsive gambler, has skipped town with the latest in a long line of bad boyfriends. She leaves a hundred dollars, a bus ticket to Sacramento, California, and a note telling her daughter to look up the grandmother she’s never met. So when sixteen-year-old Shawna wakes up to find herself alone in their seedy rental, we expect a coming-of-age story set against the bright lights and gritty underbelly of Las Vegas.
But Sliding on the Edge by first-time novelist C. Lee McKenzie delivers something quite different. It’s an interesting look at the lives of two women – grandmother Kay’s and Shawna’s – linked by blood and stained by tragedy. They are each others’ last chance for happiness, as impossible as that seems to both when they first set eyes on each other.
McKenzie tells the story of their uneasy first months together, alternating chapters in Shawna’s words and in Kay’s and sometimes recounting the same scene from each character’s perspective. It’s a technique that deftly lets the reader in on Kay’s past and on Shawna’s self-destructive present. But it falls short of making Shawna a likeable character. When Kay’s teenaged stable hand develops a crush on Shawna; and Marta, a classmate, pursues her friendship, this reader wondered why?
Kay is a far more sympathetic character, which is brilliant: It lets the reader, likely a teen, see that authority figures are people, too. At times, however, it seemed to have been edited too tightly at the expense of details that might have developed the characters further. Who is the redhead with the ice cream about whom Shawna thinks?
Sliding on the Edge tackles the difficult issues of depression, cutting, and attempted suicide in an unflinching manner and ends on a hopeful note. Recommended.
By Kimberly Caldwell
A review copy was provided by the author. “Sliding on the Edge is the compelling, courageous chronicle of one girl – destined to be a no-one – who fights back against her secret grief and pain and finds her life.” Judy Gregerson, author of Bad Girls Club.
C. Lee McKenzie has released her second novel, The Princess of Las Pulgas.