‘Fresh and new and age-old all at once’

Crash Landing
by Li Charmaine Anne

Toronto: Annick Press, 2024
$18.99 / 9781773218427

Reviewed by Alison Acheson


“Skateboarding has made me see the world differently.” —Crash Landing

Crash Landing, the debut novel of Vancouver’s Li Charmaine Anne, is a story that leaves the reader with a sense of life being expansive and discoverable. There’s joy in this story, and in the writing of it. It carries effortlessly—like an inner tube along a lazy stream on a perfectly warmed day.

Though—I need to quickly add—not everything is bucolic! Not at all. There are moments of adolescent darkness, those moments of reality with the discoveries of who we are, what we’re about; included is a time of even questioning life itself. In this, the story is extraordinarily timely and resonant. But in the complex modern world that is portrayed here there’s a sense that family and friendship has a wonderful way of filling gaps. 

Gaps left by family are filled by friends; that’s a message of our times. But gaps left by friends are also filled by family in these pages. Anne’s storytelling is genuinely inclusive, and hits a mark with its generous spirit. It’s not either/or family or friends. Both are convincingly real. 

The F-bomb is dropped when a young adult is frustrated, and parents are their usual demanding selves. But when the proverbial manure hits the dispersement machine, it flies life-like. And still love is there, bringing to mind Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote about not stretching family drama too far, and to always, always remember the love that binds us together; there’s a whole lot of that in these pages. 

Crash Landing is layered. It’s not a simple portrait of coming-of-age life. It feels fresh and new and age-old all at once. Forever young people have made discoveries about their sexuality and gender and the world. Over and over. And for each generation and each individual it has to happen all over again, much like coming into the world in the first place.

Author Li Charmaine Anne (photo: Edward Chang)

Anne’s YA novel opens with the end of summer, Labour Day, and the last year of high school looming for Jay Wong—a year in which she determines that she will experience some teenaged reality instead of madly studying books. Her friend David has the same wish. Back in the early days of their school years together, they wrote and dreamed of this. Jay remembers and David eschews… but the quest is still with both. This is a significant theme for the story and the reader, to meet your life as it comes. Don’t hold back, and don’t push forward: live now.

On the opening day of the novel Jay hears the unmistakeable and welcome sound of skateboard wheels, and beholds a girl of her own age skillfully using a board. Curiosity sets in. The girl—Ash—is attractive, and Jay notes the response to this in her own body. The girl is also Asian, as is Jay. And—most significantly—she is a real skater! No poser here.

There are people new to our lives who bring change. But Anne skillfully weaves in the New Girl story along with the thread of David, Jay’s BFF since grade 5. Threads weave through this novel organically, feeling “as it should be.” This writer’s skill is fluid and natural; it takes a lot of work to make something so “natural.”

Too often, something that stands out as different, quirky, or eccentric, is something that also feels as if the writer has striven for exactly that; we live in truly market-driven times. But Anne’s story has a deeply genuine tone. Jay’s father, for instance, is a delight, a mix of traditional and a guy who just feels his way through “roles” using his love for his children and family as the guiding principle for the shaping of his life; in this secondary character, Anne reveals more of the compassion that underlies the creating of her work. 

An element that truly stands out for me is the shift in mind-set about the futures of young people. Attending university is no longer the default. Even “gap year followed by Uni” isn’t a default. As with all other elements of this story, it reveals options, choices, paths—without judgement. The idea of “work”—the work that goes into becoming a good skateboarder, the work that goes into honouring the reading of a novel, not just “school work” but the real work of Life—is captured in these pages; that is an unusual thematic thread, and one to appreciate. Altogether it’s about the real work of growing as a human and soul-building.

The story of Jay and Ash and David expands definitions of growing up, feminism, gender and sexuality, and even urban life, but it is truly inclusive—inclusive of historical ways and progressive, and of drawing in old and young. As a coming of age story, it speaks not only to it LGBTQ+ readers, but also to all readers who care about becoming adult in a positive, life-embracing, world-loving way. Dare I say, there’s a sense of spirituality here, inasmuch as it truly seeks out meaningful existence. The “happily ever after” has a sense of solitudes co-existing with awareness and care. How do humans connect? It’s here in these pages.

The characters make what some might call “bad choices.” But in this story, choices are realistically portrayed. Yes, something bad could happen. But it doesn’t. Is this arbitrary? Yes. As in life. Reality is captured, without moralizing. Risks are risks. Life is a risk. Loving is a risk. Changing is a risk. We risk, or we never move on into our own lives.

The writing is fluid and has moments of magic. As a writer, reading, I sense that Anne could go crazy and “show off” with skater-trick-equivalents of literary talent. But there’s a sense of what’s real for a young adult reader, along with a sense of respectful restraint. Beautifully written lines add and build and are enough in themselves. Check them out: “the way she laughs, it’s like a thin layer of gentle teasing over a thicker layer of genuineness”; “He isn’t afraid to draw loud”; “Ash stands there, a scrawny figure outlined in leftover sunlight.” And what about the adolescent perfection of “I roll my eyes so far back, I hope they get stuck in my skull so I don’t have to see my mother’s reaction”? Oh, yes!

Then again, if you’re looking to be able to pop a few skateboard tricks, you could read this work as a manual, and come out flying, and dropping in! The descriptions of maneuvering a board are quite something. And the learning and—again—work—in that.

Li Charmaine Anne’s work Crash Landing is an authentic labour of love.


Alison Acheson

Alison Acheson is the author of almost a dozen books for all ages, with the most recent being a memoir of caregiving: Dance Me to the End: Ten Months and Ten Days with ALS (TouchWood, 2019). She writes a newsletter on Substack, The Unschool for Writers, and lives on the East Side of Vancouver. [Editor’s note: Alison Acheson has also reviewed books by Linda Demeulemeester, Hanako Masutani, Julie Lawson, George M. Johnson, Janice Lynn Mather, Jacqueline Firkins, Barbara Nickel, and Caroline Adderson for BCR; and Dance Me to the End: Ten Months and Ten Days with ALS was reviewed by Lee Reid.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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