Run! With This New Caribbean Young Adult Novel, “Off Track”

As I have mentioned before, I have acquired quite a taste for young adult novels (although Jamaican author Diana McCaulay says she doesn’t quite see her book “Daylight Come” as a “YA novel,” it has the feel of one, direct and emotional). I have read and reviewed several other Caribbean offerings besides Diana’s on this blog, and enjoyed them immensely. Here’s one that I loved, for example.

Now a new novel by Trinidadian author Tamika Gibson, published by Jamaica’s Blue Banyan/Blouse & Skirt Books is coming up, and I hope to read and review it soon.

Meanwhile, join Ms. Gibson TOMORROW, Sunday November 8 at 2:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. Trinidad time) on the Bocas Lit Fest Facebook page!

Off Track – A Leap into the Exciting World of Caribbean Athletics

Athletics is one of the key obsessions of contemporary Caribbean culture, and for many young athletes in the region, a career in track and field can help them jumpstart a whole new life. Author Tamika Gibson leaps into this world and adds romance to the intrigue with her sophomore novel Off Track, published by Blouse & Skirt Books and set for release in the Caribbean and North America on November 20, 2020.

“Sports are such an integral part of Caribbean culture, and track and field in particular,” said Gibson explaining why she wanted to write about athletics. “And for young people, much like the main characters in Off Track, track and field can open a world of opportunities and dramatically change the trajectory of their lives. So, I wanted to bring those elements to life in this book,” she continued. 

Off Track is an intense yet wistful, funny and ultimately inspiring novel, that follows two young athletes Kayla and Joel. Kayla is a gifted runner with unrelenting drive, who desperately wants to make the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic team. For her, track is a path out of the circle of things to be fixed, near empty bellies, and constant waiting for the end of the month. She longs to break out from the poverty slowly eating away at her mother and grinding down her younger sisters and escape the violence always at the edge of their world in the form of their aunt’s abusive, lecherous boyfriend. So, she has no time to worry about her relationship with her semi-estranged father. She has no time for fun and friends and definitely not for her growing interest in her teammate Joel.

But Joel has far more to him than fast legs and a charming smile. With his father’s track legacy looming large in the public mind, it seems Joel was born to run. But as much as he has been running toward his dreams of Olympic gold, he has been trying to out the shadows from his father’s past, a father whom he has never net, but whose mistakes have shaped Joel’s own path.

Set in contemporary Trinidad and Tobago Off Track explores athletics, family, growing up, crime, and migration, love as well as romantic and filial love. It also explores a theme any teen can understand – the ways in which expectations and aspirations may turn into burdens we have to carry and hurdles to be overcome. Ultimately, Off Track is a lively, vibrant story about taking control of your own destiny, facing challenges head on and that even when you stumble of even fall, with great determination, nothing can get you off track from your dreams.

“Dreams Beyond the Shore” was Tamika Gibson’s first novel and winner of the CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature in 2016.

Gibson explains that the process of writing Off Track was very different from the journey to her debut novel Dreams Beyond the Shore.

“With Dreams Beyond the Shore, I felt like I was writing to prove to myself that I could craft a book. It was a goal I’d had for so long. And then it was released, and so many readers were taken with the characters and felt so connected to the world in the novel,” Gibson explained.

She noted that now, in the light of the reception of her first novel, there is greater anticipation about Off Track. “I truly didn’t expect the reception that Dreams Beyond the Shore received because I’d been solely focused on creating the story itself. So now, with Off Track, there’s this new anticipation of how readers will experience this book, and what will resonate with them,” she said.

Off Track earned the second prize in the 2019 Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature. Gibson’s first novel, Dreams Beyond the Shore was winner of the 2016 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. The critically acclaimed novel made the Kirkus Reviews Best Books for Young Readers list (2017) and was longlisted for the IMPAC International Literary Prize (2019).

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