________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 18 . . . . April 27, 2007


Pure Spring.

Brian Doyle.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2007.
160 pp., pbk. & cl., $14.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-775-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-774-6.

Subject Heading:
Pure Spring Company-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


I sit at the table and set my brown lunch bag in front of me. I’ve got pork sandwiches today. Pork and sweet mustard. But nothing to drink. I’ve had my one free drink for the day.

“Go down to the truck and get a Lemon ‘N Lime for me and a Honee Orange for you.”

“But I already had my drink for the day.”

“Never mind that. Go! And when you come back sit by the window so you can look down and see the truck. Make sure no kids are around tryin’ to steal drinks!”

 Funny how crooks don’t trust anybody.

Martin O’Boyd, the tragic protagonist of Boy O’Boy, returns in this sequel in which Martin is now a 15-year-old who has moved to live with Grampa Rip. Rip is not Martin’s grandfather. Rip is the grandfather of Martin’s hero, Buz Sawyer, who is off fighting in the Korean War.

     In order to secure employment, Martin says that he is 16 and lands a job working as a delivery helper for the Pure Spring soft drink company. Martin’s job is to assist Randy in supplying soft drinks to stores and residences in the Ottawa area. Randy, however, is unscrupulous and involves Martin in deceitful ways to cheat customers. Martin’s tangled web of dishonesty and discontent becomes further tangled when he falls in love with the daughter of one of the customers.

     Despite some objectionable characters and their deceitful and often brutal ways, Brian Doyle’s writing is to be savoured. He writes of a more wholesome time with an appeal that is difficult to resist. It is the juxtaposition of honesty and dishonesty, virtue and vice, that adds real-life depth to the story and characters. Doyle’s characters are so well constructed that one can readily identify their “realness” and one cannot help but feel for Martin, given the trap into which he has fallen.

     Pure Spring is not as dark and disturbing as Boy O’Boy. As a 15-year-old, Martin is more able to exert some control over the situations in which he finds himself. Indeed, much of Pure Spring is about Martin’s recovery from the abuses he experienced in Boy O’Boy. Although those experiences still haunt him, there is a sense here of growing strength and determination to chart one’s own path through life.

     The young love shared by Martin and the adorable Gerty McDowell is a joy to read. Doyle has clearly not forgotten what it is like to be filled with the vitality of youth and to be exploring one’s first love. The innocent, even pure, interactions between Martin and Gerty serve as a strong foundation point from which to consider the workday predicament into which Martin has stumbled.

     Groundwood Books promotes Pure Spring as a book for 11 to 14-year-olds. I personally think that it would take a mature individual of that age range to appreciate Doyle’s mastery. As an adult reader, the sense of nostalgia evoked by Pure Spring is priceless, but I am not convinced that early teens will fully appreciate what Pure Spring has to offer. For me, this is a book best suited to older, mature readers looking for well-crafted writing and strong characters.

     Pure Spring is superbly done.

Highly Recommended.

Gregory Bryan teaches children’s literature and reading education classes at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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