________________ CM . . . . Volume III Number 15 . . . . March 28, 1997

cover Back of Beyond.

Sarah Ellis.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood / Douglas & McIntyre, 1996. 159 pp., paper, $9.95.
ISBN: 0-88899-269-6.

Subject Headings:
Adolescence-Juvenile fiction.
Children's stories, Canadian (English).

Grades 7 - 9 / Ages 12 - 14.
Review by Irene Gordon.

*** /4

After four novels, Sarah Ellis has produced Back of Beyond, a book of 12 short stories. While they are not exactly ghost or horror stories, each contains something slightly abnormal which cannot be explained rationally.

      For example, in Catch, Rita and her aunt Darlene help an elderly stranger find his dog, an action which causes Rita to miss her bus to band rehearsal. Borrowing her aunt's car, Rita parks in an underground garage where, after rehearsal, she is attacked by three men. Fortuitously, a security guard appears, scares off the assailants, calls the police and then disappears. Later, the parking attendant tells Rita that the garage has no security personnel. Based on Rita's description of her rescuer, Aunt Darlene concludes he was the man they had assisted in finding his dog.

      In Visitors Katie and her anorexic friend Ellen hike to a mountain cabin where, after supper, they are joined by two strangers, Sith and Bab, who identify themselves as siblings. After involving the group in some riddles, Sith begins to play a mouth organ.

Before I had decided to, I was on my feet dancing around that rocky place like a crazy person. Ellen, too. We couldn't stop. And I wasn't tired at all. My legs were like springs. I just wanted to dance harder and faster and longer and never stop.

      Katie twists her ankle and stops dancing, but the others continue to dance faster and faster. Suddenly Katie realizes that the answer to Sith's and Bab's last riddle was "Nothing". When they ignore her shouted out answer, Katie blows out the candle, leaving the quartet in absolute darkness. By the time Ellen gets out a flashlight, Sith and Bab have disappeared. The next morning, Katie and Ellen look at where they had been dancing.

And then I saw it. A circle. A circle where dancing feet had worn away the moss. A circle whose outer edge was a hand's-breadth away from the crumbling cliff edge.

      While this collection contains some excellent stories, there are others that are not quite so successful. In the best, characters, settings, atmosphere or emotions are described so vividly that the stories come alive.

      In addition to the suggested upper middle school audience, Back of Beyond would also appeal to those older teen readers who can be enticed beyond its somewhat young-looking physical appearance and format.

Highly recommended.

Irene Gordon, a teacher librarian who has spent 13 tears working in a Winnipeg junior high school, is presently the co-editor of the MSLA Journal which is published by the Manitoba School Library Association.

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

Copyright © 1997 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