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Marianne Brandis.
Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 1990.
221pp., paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-88984-103-9. Distributed by University of Toronto Press. CIP.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14

Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson.

Volume 18 Number 5
1990 September

In The Sign of the Scales, Marianne Brandis has written her third novel about Emma and John Anderson and life in the southern Ontario of the 1830s. Her first, The Tinderbox ¹, introduces Emma, who, at fourteen, is responsible for her young brother, the only other survivor of a tragic homestead fire. In the novel Emma chooses between becoming the wife of a bush farmer and going with her virtually unknown guardian to the city of York. Emma chooses the latter for herself and her brother. It is her life in York at her aunt's hotel that is the subject of the second novel, The Quarter-Pie Window ². Emma is again faced with a difficult series of choices and responsibilities, all of which are overshadowed by the drudgery of her work as hotel chambermaid.

In The Sign of the Scales, Emma is nearly sixteen and is sent by her aunt to work at a local general store in which she has financial interests. Emma moves into this new experience and is then thrust into the business world, both legal and illegal. She proves her ability to cope with her shopkeeping duties and eventually acts upon her suspicions of smuggling. The implications of revealing the smugglers affect Emma's relationship with her brother and with a possible marriage interest.

Marianne Brand is has created three solid, well-written works about the daily life and circumstances affecting Emma. Brandis' attention to detail is consistent in all of the books and establishes a believable historical setting for her characters. In The Sign of the Scales, she provides an intimate view of a small shop. Brandis' vision of the past is elaborated by the wood engravings by G. Brender à Brandis. Emma's character at sixteen shows a slow but definite maturation from her days as a frightened, sorrowing fourteen-year-old. Readers of young adult fiction may chafe at the pacing Brandis has chosen for her protagonist. This and the large format of the book may prove a deterrent to readers, but these books do promise a satisfying experience.


Jennifer Johnson, Ottawa Public Library, Ottawa, ON.

¹ Reviewed vol. XI/1 January 1983, p.13.
² Reviewed vol. XIV/3 May 1986, p. 110.

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