Nate McKee is a worrier in a worrying world. We know that, he knows that, but is there really that much he can do about it? Wakefield gives us quite a powerful young adult novel about how you can determine your own fate if you want to.
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I felt as though it did some things really well and others less so. However, it really depends on how you look at this novel and its intention, to determine how you feel about it. But I ultimately understood and LOVED its message and I implore young people to read books such as this.
We have all been teenagers, some of us (me), not really all that long ago. While it is hard to remember what the weight of the world on your shoulders feels like, I can guess that we can all flick back to a time where that is familiar to us. So imagine that time, and now we have the context of our main character, Nate McKee. His situation is pretty shit, there isn’t much other way to put it. His dad Dec, who he isn’t even allowed to call Dad, grows weed in Nate’s old bedroom, goes to the pub and well, that’s it. His step mother Nance is a young mother, only eight years older than Nate, who is also somewhat trapped in a life I suspect she didn’t imagine for herself. Nate has two twin half brothers, Jake and Otis, who are developing and progressing at different speeds. While it isn’t explicitly stated, it is clear that Otis is disabled in some way. A place of refuge for Nate is Youth, a government funded community centre where kids have access to movies, books, magazines; things they don’t have access to or the freedom to use at home, but also, ultimately a sense of community. It was a place where these kids, or young adults rather, could be surrounded by some adults who truly seem to care for them and treat them as an equal. However, this is quickly jeopardized when a random junkie assaults a volunteer and she must be taken to hospital.
I hope my explanation really sets the scene, clearly Nate is up shit creek without a paddle and well he can’t really do much about it. However, through the guidance of volunteers and mentors at Youth, the classic teacher who wants to make a difference that students often begrudgingly love, the love of Nance who has no familial connection to Nate beyond his dad (but does more for him than Dec ever did), Nate slowly changes his tune and learns that it is within his power to make a change. That is what this book is wholly about, and I think that is brilliant. Because there is nothing on this planet to say a teenager can’t make a change to their life, to try and achieve a better life… right? Except maybe circumstances, the law, accessibility etc.
I don’t want it to come across that I didn’t enjoy this book, because I did and I was so glad that it ended hopefully, however I couldn’t look past some elements of reality or rather a broader range of circumstances that aren’t explored in this novel. I think that perhaps Nate is lucky that his father doesn’t physically beat him. Perhaps Nate is lucky he has a stepmother that cares about him as much as her own biological children. Perhaps Nate is lucky he has a teacher that cares enough to help him navigate his life? I must say, in reflection after reading, I couldn’t fault the hopefulness and idealistic nature of the novel but as an adult I couldn’t get past how realistically, wanting to change your own ending isn’t always as convenient as it was for Nate. Not everyone has a refuge or outer support system to lean on, and while Nate did have to learn how to ask for help and how to find the resources he had at his disposal, not every child has those there for them.
But despite my boring adult reality, I thought this novel was super inspiring for young people. Changing your circumstance doesn’t always mean running away from your completely shit life, it could mean you will try a little harder at school and take on your teachers' advice. It could mean trying to be a better friend and supporting those around you so you feel more secure in yourself. There are a plethora of ways kids and adults can change the ending and it doesn’t always need to be on the grandest scale. That is why I think this book is worth reading because it represents a realm of possibilities for kids to take a step back and decide “hey, I’m an autonomous human and I can make a difference for myself if I want to.” I think the whole arc of Nate’s life was obviously essential for the sake of a book, and it is just my cynical reflection that ruined the wonder element of the story for me. But don’t get me wrong, it is rated highly as a top quality young adult book for me and I think it is well worth reading, or recommending to young readers who are grappling with life and learning how to navigate freedom and decision making on a personal level.
This Is How We Change The Ending is a top young adult book that I hope pops up in many highschool libraries and is now a regular on local book store shelves. If books like this are accessible to children, especially those who need a bit of fictional inspiration, perhaps it can be the little push to encourage them to change their ending.
This Is How We Change The Ending
297 pages. 2019.