________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 16 . . . . April 3, 2009

cover Bank Job.

James Heneghan & Norma Charles. Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
169 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-855-9.

Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Michelle Superle.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


[Janice] sat on the edge of Lisa’s bed smiling at both of us. “I don’t want you two to worry,” she said. “I’m sure everything will work out.”

“But what if it doesn’t work out?” Lisa asked, sniffing, trying not to cry.

“Let’s worry about that if it comes. We’ve got six months to think of something.”

“I don’t want to leave here,” said Lisa. “Not ever. I don’t want to leave you and Joseph, or Nails and the boys. You’re my family.” Her face crumpled and tears glistened in her dark eyes.

“I know, Sweetie Pie,” said Janice, rubbing her back. “And we don’t want to lose you either. You talk to her, Nell,” she said as she was leaving. “Try to make her see that things will work out, one way or the other.”

Lisa cried.

I felt like crying too. Our family was about to be annihilated.

There had to be something we could do. There just had to be.

We had to stay together.

Perhaps following the popular examples of Melvin Burgess’s Junk and Doing It, James Heneghan and Norma Charles convincingly portray shocking contemporary adolescent social behaviour while upholding the dominant moral position that such behaviour is problematic. Their novel, Bank Job, for 9 to 13-year-old readers, effectively manages to balance along this ideological tightrope and empathetically explores why three young teens would engage in the serious crime of bank robbery.

    The authors were inspired by a newspaper account of three teenagers who robbed seven banks in Vancouver. In imagining this tale fictionally, Heneghan and Charles, who are both longtime veteran children’s authors, develop the compelling protagonist Nell to narrate the story. Nell has lived in foster care all her life because her mother is mentally challenged. Her most recent home with the kind, supportive Hardy family also shelters other foster kids: young Lisa, who is like a little sister to Nell, and Billy and Tom, who are her closest friends. Together, this group is a family, and this portrayal of children in foster care, along with the adults who look after them, is sensitively and engagingly developed without stereotypes. It is also realistic in that the whimsical bureaucracy of the state can topple it with one blow. In Nell’s case, new ministry regulations threaten to tear her postmodern family apart if they cannot find $10,000 with which to renovate a second bathroom: hence, robbing banks. While ultimately Nell, Billy, and Tom’s quest to raise $10,000 as criminals is unsuccessful and they recognize the moral implications of their actions, they do have some exciting adventures along the way. It’s easy to get caught up in the story and cheer for Nell, Billy, and Tom, who are each deeply sympathetic characters.

     Bank Job is smoothly written, carefully paced, and convincingly plotted until the last section of the book. Then suddenly, the conflict is easily resolved by a benevolent judge, and the final action is perplexingly telescoped into a rushed ending. A further possible weak point is promoting Bank Job for 9 to 13-year-olds. Edging out of the traditional age range for a middle grade novel (8-12), this recommended readership reflects an uneasy mix in the text. The harsh social realism in Bank Job is more typical of YA literature while the simple vocabulary and narrative structure reflect a traditional juvenile approach. For these reasons, Bank Job seems most appropriate as a kind of hybridized, sophisticated hi-lo book for teens that read at a below-average level. For this group, it would provide an excellent read. However, many teachers and librarians will likely think twice before recommending Bank Job to a nine-year-old.


Michelle Superle teaches children’s literature, composition, and creative writing at the University of the Fraser Valley.

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