CM March 15, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 23

image Summer of Madness.

Marion Crook.
Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 1995. 188pp, paper, $7.95.
ISBN: 1-55143-041-X.

Grades 6 - 10 / Ages 11 - 15.
Review by Jennifer Johnson.



It seems that everyone but me knows how to talk and flirt and exchange feelings. I'm competent at some things: math, science, even organic chemistry. I can look after the house, my sister, and my animals, but if they gave grades for understanding emotions, I'd get an "F." I can't figure out the simplest relationship. My friend Paula says there is nothing simple about relationships, but she seems to understand them.

Sixteen-year-old Karen fits into her world with ease. She is confident and able, except about relationships. Her home is on a cattle ranch in the Cariboo region of British Columbia and she manages a full roster of duties and activities. She juggles 4-H projects, friendships, ranch chores, and family duties. At the end of August, Karen's mom flies to Edmonton to help her own mother, and Karen faces a whole new set of responsibilities.

To her own schedule she adds her mother's rural postal route, cooking for a hungry haying crew, and managing her younger sister. When she discovers that someone is poisoning calves, she becomes aware of an ugly scheme to force the ranchers to sell out to a local developer. Karen is drawn into a "summer of madness" as her careful balance of interests is suddenly overloaded and an unexpected menace intrudes on her familiar lifestyle.

As Marion Crook has proven in her previous novels, she is a skilful interpreter of young adult concerns and emotions. In Karen, she has created an able young woman who is equal to the demands of a busy life. Crook establishes a rural ranching setting and sets Karen very comfortably in that world. For urban readers, the wealth of detail about daily life in ranching country is exotic, but the messages about community and capability are positive and have broader application.

Crook has experience plotting and pacing mysteries from her "Susan George" series. In Summer of Madness, the escalating harassment suffered by the ranch families and Karen's quick thinking in the face of fear and real physical danger are well set-out and delivered. The emotional support Karen gets in light of her retaliation is effective as well.

In a book that explores emerging sexual attraction and emotional sharing so effectively, it is unfortunate that Crook also introduces a psychic element. The "mind-to-mind connection" which Karen and Kevin share is a distraction from their real need to articulate their feelings to one another. For young readers who experience the same insecurities that Karen does about self-image, appearance, and relationships, this extra-sensory intimacy may prove a distraction. The psychic element could be a good primary focus for another novel, but it is not a successful addition to a book already abundantly supplied with character and action.

The cover of the paperback is a definite asset. The photographic composite of a young woman in repose over a foothills meadow is attractive and should move the book off the paperback racks and into the hands of readers.


Jennifer Johnson works in Ottawa as a children's librarian.

Summer of Madness was reviewed by classes across Canada as part of the Collaborative Book Review Project. You can read the students' reviews at the Collaborative Book Review Project site.

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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364