Nalo Hopkinson’s first foray into Young Adult fiction is a highly original, witty, surreal and absurd narrative of self-acceptance and tolerance. Sojourner “Scotch”(a hot Jamaican pepper, named after her dance moves) is a light-skinned teenager with a white Jamaican father and a black American mother living in Toronto. After having suffered bullying for being a branded as a “slut” at her previous school, Scotch struggles to be accepted and dreams of leaving the parental house to live independently with her brother. In the middle of teenage friendships, heartache, and sexual awareness happens the Chaos, a worldwide catastrophe that turns real the most absurd dark fantasies: a house acquires prehistorical bird-legs; men are turned into purple hippopotamuses with tiny party hats or a mountain of Jelly Beans; a gigantic volcano self-erects in the middle of the Toronto lake, and erupts plastic name tags and light bulbs; strange ghosts follow people around and whisper into their ears. And while the world is going visibly crazy, the disturbing black blemishes on Scotch’s skin continue to grow, menacing to envelop her whole.
The Chaos‘s characters, which besides Scotch include gay and lesbian friends, one of whom is in a wheelchair, as well as a successful polyamorous relationship, cleverly negotiates themes of tolerance, queerness, sexual awakening, racism and colorism, ableism, and mental illness–and all of this in some 250 pages. The power of the novel resides in its unapologetic absurdity as well as in its well-thought out teenage voices who make mistakes and learn to accept themselves and others. Overall, The Chaos feels like a literal, PG rendition of the podcast Welcome to Nightvale. While some of the most surreal scenes may lose some readers who have little patience for unexplained absurdities, others will rejoice in the light-heartedness and humor of the novel. Others like me will delight in the wide arrays of usually largely absent characters and themes.