________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 24. . . .February 21, 2014



Karen Autio.
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2013.
293 pp., trade pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-55039-208-1.

Subject Headings:
Finnish Canadians-Ontario-Juvenile fiction.
World War., 1914-1918-Ontario-Juvenile fiction.
Ontario-Social conditions-20th century-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Karen Rankin.

***½ /4




All the newsboys was long gone when [news reporter] Cam finally drove up. Before he even got the motor turned off, I was blurting my story. I told him every detail I could remember about Mr. Serious.

“And last Wednesday, I found some evidence up by the wireless station,” I said, showing him the bullet casing. He used my handkerchief to carefully lift the cylinder and turn it around. After examining it closely, he said, “It’s definitely not from a police gun. Might be from the saboteur’s. Good thing you didn’t get your fingerprints on it. You should turn this in to the police.”

“Sure.” I tucked the little bundle back in my pocket. “Are you gonna tell them about Mr. Serious?”

“I want to know more about his knapsack.”

“He was real careful with it. Kept it on his lap. Then he carried it in his arms, close like, instead of on his back. Looked as if he didn’t want it bumped.”

“You think he had dynamite in there?”

“Maybe. I don’t know – I just know what I seen.”

“Hmm … it does sound suspicious.” He removed his cap and scratched the back of his head. “Okay. I’ll go see Constable Bryant.”

“Can I come with you, Cam? Please?”

What did I tell you last time you asked that?”

“You said, ‘I report, you sell the papers.’ But I’m too late now to hawk papers, and Fred’s doing my route for me.”

“Well, Johnny, seeing as you gave me the scoop here, all right. But keep your mouth shut.”

I climbed into the passenger seat. My first real scouting for the facts with a reporter!


It was Sunday morning and we were waiting for the pastor to begin the service. My head was swimming with pronouns, participles, and parsing of verbs. I’d finished all of my grammar work, two compositions, and the rough copy of my essay. Under my breath I said, “Whew.” Four more days to get my essay, last composition, and the rest of my mathematics done.

To my surprise, Helena joined me in the pew. “Helena! I haven’t seen you in so long –”

“Who’s the new girl?” she whispered in my ear. She must have seen me and Birgitta walking past her home.

“Her name’s Birgitta Schmidt. She’s –” was all I could get out before Mama shushed me. Helena gave me a puzzled, almost angry look. She didn’t sing any of the hymns. The pastor preached his sermon, but I hardly paid attention, trying to figure out what was bothering Helena.

“In conclusion, pay heed to these words of our Lord,” said the pastor, bringing my focus back to his sermon. “The text is from the book of Matthew, chapter five, verse forty-four. ‘But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ ”

As soon as the service ended, Helena grabbed my arm and steered me outside. “How can you possibly associate with a Hun? The German’s murdered [their friend’s older brother] Gordon! Their submarines blow up allied steamships!”

“Birgitta doesn’t agree with the war. She’s from a good family –”

“What are they hiding? Her father could be plotting to destroy our country.”

“How can you say such things when you haven’t even met her?” My voice sounded harsher than I’d intended.

With an ugly glare, Helena said, “Stay away from her and all of the enemy aliens.” She spun on her heel and strode toward home, clearly not wanting my company. I guessed she hadn’t heard any of the sermon.


Following Second Watch and Saara’s Passage, Sabotage concludes a trilogy of historical fiction based on a family of Finnish immigrants living on the north shore of Lake Superior. This story is narrated alternately from the perspectives of Saara Mäki and her younger brother, Jussi (John). It begins as summer starts, 11 months after the outbreak of World War I. Thirteen-year-old Saara has returned to Port Arthur after months spent helping her sick aunt, and she is intent on making up the time missed at school so that she will be promoted to the next grade in the fall. If she fails, her dream of becoming a school teacher will be dashed; but, completing her special school assignments is hard since she’s expected to do so much work for her parents who, like many other new-immigrant families, are struggling to make ends meet. When Saara attempts to bolster the family’s income, and to support the war effort, she discovers first-hand the growing antipathy towards all new immigrants in Port Arthur. Nine-year-old John has a newspaper delivery route and hopes to become a news reporter when he grows up. He is observant, has a quick wit, and an unrelenting interest in WW I spies and “sabotagers” that might be lurking around Port Arthur. When he tries to convince Saara that there are saboteurs in Port Arthur, she’s skeptical, pointing out that news stories are often embellished and not to be believed. John sees the truth of her observation after he helps police find hidden sticks of dynamite without a fuse to ignite them, yet news-reporter Cam writes that the dynamite could have “exploded at any time.” Nevertheless, John saw the strange man who planted the dynamite, and many other strange things are going on in Port Arthur: John’s friend, Fred’s father is arrested, made a POW without any trial, and sent to an internment camp for an indefinite period of time apparently for the ‘crime’ of having immigrated from the Ukraine; pieces of clothing drying on clotheslines – like Mama’s dress – are occasionally disappearing; Saara’s best friend and an elderly neighbour are ignoring Saara since she has befriended Birgitta Schmidt; Papa, who works hard and whenever he can, is anonymously threatened with black-listing for his attempts to organize a union as well as associating with Birgitta’s father. The tension in Sabotage increases gradually and credibly, culminating in Saara and John’s attempt to exonerate their father who has been charged with a serious war crime and jailed.

     Throughout the story, the apprehension, politics, and consequences surrounding divisive personal and governmental decisions taken because of WW I are considered, as in the following conversation between John, Saara, and their father.

“Now city council’s talking sense,” said Papa. He was reading the newspaper and eating his lunch. “They want more enemy aliens interned. With them gone, that means more jobs for the rest of us.” He slurped his coffee.

“How many more do they have room for?” I asked. “Fred told me there’s hundreds at Kapuskasing already.”

Saara was squishing eggs into raw ground beef. She said, “What about all the immigrants like you who don’t mean Canada any harm? Why should they be interned just because they were born in a certain country?”

“I meant dangerous enemy aliens,” said Papa. “not regular people.”

     Autio seamlessly integrates historical detail into the various plot threads. For instance, Saara receives censored letters from Birgitta in an internment camp after her mother opts to accompany her father upon his arrest; after Fred’s mother decides they will not go into internment with her husband, both she and Fred are eventually arrested for stealing food to keep from starving; each chapter begins with a relevant quote from the Port Arthur newspaper that John delivers.

     At the beginning of Sabotage, siblings John and Saara notice changes in each other after their months-long separation. John, a prankster, observes that Saara seems older and more serious – “almost like Mama” – since her return. He wants to make her smile again. Saara is surprised by her brother’s desire and ability to undertake more responsible roles in the family; however, she mistakes the intent of John’s pranks, retaliates with her own, and they quickly fall back into their accustomed rivalry. While on the one hand, they are only 13 and nine years of age so this behaviour could be credible; on the other hand, they are both convincingly bright, driven, and relatively mature – therefore too old for such behaviour. (John’s limited vocabulary skills are also not entirely believable, given his apparent intellect.) By the end of the novel, Saara and Jussi are able to set aside their conflict and work together to save Papa and the family.

     Relevant historical photographs presented at the end of the novel will appeal to all readers. Also included are a glossary of Finnish words and pronunciations, as well as a brief list of books and on-line resources for readers interested in further research.

     Sabotage is a rich blend of compelling plot threads, fascinating historical detail, and concepts as relevant in today’s world as they were back in 1915.

Highly Recommended.

Karen Rankin is a Toronto teacher and writer of children’s stories.

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

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