________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 5. . . .October 3, 2014


A Simple Case of Angels.

Caroline Adderson.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2014.
32 pp., pbk., hc. & html, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $14.95 (html).
ISBN 978-1-55498-429-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55498-428-2 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-430-5 (html).

Subject Heading:
Dogs-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Todd Kyle.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.



Glenda wheeled in another patient, an old woman judging by the pink of the robe. She was tinier than the other two, with a sweet Japanese face.

“Mrs. Tanaka,” Glenda said.

Glenda did an amazing thing then. She bent down and kissed the silky top of Mrs. Tanaka’s head.

“She is the sweetest person ever. Isn’t she, Pierre?”

“I love her,” said Pierre.

Now Nicola knew for sure the flowery smell was coming from the patients. It grew stronger with each arrival. Also, the fluorescent lights seemed to be ringing in a way she hadn’t noticed before, like a wet finger circling the rim of a wine glass. A faint, singing note. With the quiet, persistent ringing and the sweet perfume, Nicola felt a little dizzy, like her head was filled with birds. Swooping birds writing in the air. Writing something joyful.


Determined to make amends for the havoc wreaked by her poorly-behaved dog June Bug, fifth grader Nicola and her new friend Lindsay bring the dog to a nursing home, Shady Oaks Retirement Home, to cheer up the patients. They soon begin to suspect, on their regular visits, that patients are being locked in their rooms and sedated against their will, and that it may be connected to strange things going on in their neighbourhood where everybody seems cranky. At the same time, a mysterious message from one patient named Mr. Milton connects them to Milton’s Paradise Lost, and they begin to suspect that Mrs. Tanaka and two other patients are actually angels who are unable to escape to help balance things better in the world. With the help of nursing home staff, the two unlock the doors of the three patients and discover they actually are angels, setting off a chain of events that sets everything in their world right once again.

     A story based on a highly original concept, A Simple Case of Angels presents sympathetic characters, especially Lindsay, who has a “Feel Better Box” made from a refrigerator carton in her bedroom, to which she retreats when feeling sad. Nicola, herself, is strong-willed and well-meaning, while the nursing home patients are intelligent people trapped in uncommunicative bodies, and the home’s manager, Mr. Devon, is a caricatured ogre bent on keeping costs down by outlawing any type of fun.

     Young readers, however, will find the book very difficult to follow. The connections between various events, the “signs” of angels that Nicola is looking for, are often confusing and leave inexplicable loose ends. Even the reference to Paradise Lost is awkward. Mr. Milton makes a reference to “do not forget to entertain angels” which leads Nicola to Google the phrase, then connect it to Milton’s works when her mother is looking for the author of Paradise for a crossword puzzle. A reader might assume the quote is from Milton; however, it is from “Leviticus”. The theme of the book, the balance between good and evil, is an important one, but the obscure, scattershot, and highly metaphysical manner in which Nicola awakens to it would make it seem beyond both her and the reader’s understanding.

     Still, there is a real feeling of something profound here, an important message, and with occasional references to angels in various religions, it is all done without any sense of overtly Christian moralism. And interestingly, the theme of over-drugged nursing home patients is a current one in the news—although it would have been more authentic if Shady Oaks had been referred to as a “long-term care facility” rather than a “retirement home”, which it is decidedly not.

Recommended with Reservations.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.

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

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