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Let me explain. Numerous tribes exist in friction at our school. The LogoTribe exhibit name brands wherever and whenever possible. The Digerati Tribe worship bytes and silicon chips. The Lipstick/Hair Spray Tribe perform elaborate appearance alterations to attract mates. The ‘Gee-The-Seventies-Were-Great-Even-Though-I-Wasn’t-Born-Yet’ Tribe have predictable backwards habits. The Hockey Tribe subdivides into Oilers,Canadiens, Rangers and other assorted clans.
And finally there’s us, the quasi-omniscient Observers.
Percy Montmount, Jr., along with his best friend Elissa, have dubbed themselves the Observers of their grade 12 graduating class at Saskatoon’s Groverly High. Ever since the death of his father – a renowned anthropologist whom Percy believes died in the Congo from a bite of a tsetse fly -- Percy has mysteriously taken on his dad’s eyes, and his occupation, to examine the often inexplicable and ritualistic behaviors of his peers. Armed with his field study notebook, Percy tries to remain detached from his subjects, including Justin, an Alpha Male bully from the Jock Tribe, and Marcia Grady, a beautiful member of the Lipstick/Hairspray Tribe and various other sects: the Teacher tribe; theBorn Again tribe; the Cool and Detached tribe; not to mention Mr. Verplaz, theShaman.
For Percy it’s crucial to withdraw, analyze, and remain coolly above it all. But he’s studying real people, who complicate things. Like Elissa, the only person who can come close to him, maybe too close and his no longer not-so-scientific interest in her (or her webbed foot) is battling his desperate need not to feel any emotion. As graduation approaches, the looming ritual ratchets up Percy’s deepest, hidden feelings and reveals the truth about his father’s disappearance.
Tribes is marked by caustic humour and wry overtones but it is also layered with a subtle and poignant sensitivity about the often unquantifiable condition of adolescence. With a surprise ending and a hero whose offbeat behavior belies his all-too-human feelings of love, pain and adolescent angst, Tribes is a rare breed – a young adult novel that speaks a language that teens understand.