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The Toll Bridge by Aidan Chambers

The Toll Bridge (1992)

by Aidan Chambers

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I feel slightly silly for reading fiction targeted to teenage readers. It all goes back to the library database searches I've sometimes done to find out gay and lesbian fiction. I didn't read these books (because they were not available, because I wasn't aware of them, because they weren't even written when I was in my teens) when I was in the target age group but I've nonetheless retained some curiosity for what is available nowadays. That is how I discovered Aidan Chamber's Dance on My Grave, written in the early 1980s (which I thought was surprisingly early), depicting a somewhat tragic friendship/love of two young men. I then went on to read Postcards from No-Man's Land, a much later novel but dealing with somewhat similar themes of growing up, deciding what you want to do with life. I'm not sure of the context in which I first became aware of The Toll Bridge but I bought it on the strength of what I knew of the other two - it was said to belong to the same sequence of books.

The Toll Bridge is Jan's story, interspersed with comments by his friend Tess. He took up the job as toll taker and bridge keeper in an attempt to gain some independence and to recover from his depression (which he calls The Glums). Tess is the daughter of his boss. Jan fancies her but she doesn't feel the same. One night a strange young man breaks into the house. He says his name is Adam and he decides to stay with Jan and help him out. In the course of the novel, we find out that Jan's name is not really Jan (which is a nickname Tess - whose real name is not Tess - gives him, from Janus, the two-faced Roman deity) but Piers. But it is Adam who is most at loss with his life - Adam is only one part of him - his real name is Aston and he was kept in a mental hospital for his own safety.

An OK book but I didn't like it much. ( )
  mari_reads | Aug 28, 2006 |
Roger Sutton (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September 1995 (Vol. 49, No. 1))
The narrator (unnamed for quite a while; nicknamed after a few chapters) has resolved to escape "the Glums" and put off post-schooling decisions by working as a toll-collector at a little-used bridge, living in the picturesque if decaying tollhouse. He is soon joined by another boy, Adam, who seems to have come from nowhere and who confidently settles himself in over the protests of his host. Names are dicey things in this novel: Adam's name isn't really Adam, the narrator is nicknamed "Jan," after Janus, by his boss' sexy daughter, who is in turn nicknamed Tess. The whole has a self-referential, postmodern glossiness that gets in the way: "Images of images, he thought now-now in this my now, now in your now, me now not me then. Marks on paper. Bridge between subject and object. Outside over there from inside under here." Under this pointlessly obfuscating layer, though, is an intense story about four teens (add Gill, Jan's girlfriend) in emotional and often sexual obsession with each other as they seek self-definition as well as ways to connect. The novel concludes with a lame psychological device (a blow to the head reveals hidden memories and Adam's tragic past) that seems at odds with the literary sophistication shown thereto; teens though, will appreciate the melodramatic twist as well as the sudden clarity of the story. Ad--Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area.
added by kthomp25 | editThe Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Roger Sutton
Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1995)
A British novel--something between a love story and a philosophical meditation on adolescence--experimental in form, with flashbacks, stream-of-consciousness, and several narrators--large and complicated characters whose main passions are dime-store philosophizing and sex. Jan, the main narrator, has finished school but has no intention of going on to the university. He wants to find himself, and to this end he finds a job in the middle of nowhere, taking tolls from cars at a lonesome bridge. He lives alone in a little house near the bridge, where he has plenty of time to think. His only company--apart from the letters from his parents and girlfriend, who are all upset at his departure--is his boss's daughter, Tess. Suddenly a mysterious boy named Adam shows up and moves in with Jan. The relationships of Jan, Tess, and Adam fill most of the plot, a plot of thoughts and emotions rather than actions and events (the work has some kinship with Franny and Zooey, 1961). Chambers (NIK' Now I Know, 1988, etc.) is interested in the question "what is a self?" which he partially answers: His narrators write in a messy, irritatingly self-conscious style, but something coherent ultimately emerges from between the lines. A powerful brew, not for every taste.
added by kthomp25 | editKirkus
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0810983583, Paperback)

To escape the pressures of suffocating parents and a possessive girlfriend, seventeen-year-old Piers takes a job as a keeper of a toll bridge and its cottage. There he befriends Adam, a charismatic wayfarer who shows up one day and refuses to leave. He also befriends a girl named Tess, and soon he and Tess find themselves strangely attracted to Adam and falling under his spell. The three test their sexuality and the bonds of their friendship as they discover who they are—and aren’t—in a harrowing course of events that leaves all three wondering if you can ever really know anyone.
Like the other books in The Dance Sequence, The Toll Bridge can be read alone or as part of the series.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:53 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Taking a job as a toll-bridge collector to escape family pressures and discover who he is, seventeen-year-old Jan meets and befriends Adam and Tess and the three test their friendship as each faces a turning point in his and her life.

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