________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 10 . . . . January 18, 2002

cover Whose Side Are You On?

Betty Fitzpatrick Dorion.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2001.
209 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55050-179-8.

Subject Headings:
Strikes and lockouts-Miners-Juvenile fiction.
Silicosis-Juvenile fiction.
Fathers and sons-Juvenile fiction.
Newfoundland and Labrador-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Alison Mews.



He turned left towards the high school, St. Augustine's, a two-storied box. Nothing to brag about. He grabbed the brass handle and yanked the door open. The wind wrenched it from his grasp and there was a resounding slam behind him. The nuns couldn't blame him this time.

He cupped his hands and blew on his stiff fingers. Sometimes this Newfoundland weather poisoned him. Here it was April, 1975, and it felt like the middle of the Ice Age.

Ron smoothed his hair. The colour of dry sand it was, and every bit as unmanageable. He pushed open the classroom door and shook his head in disgust. Bad timing. Everyone was standing for prayer and Sister Carmelita was in the middle of the sign of the cross. Now he'd have to stand there, right at the front, and pray too. He was sure he looked a sight, his wavy hair sticking out like a birch broom in the fits, and his big nose as red as boiled lobster.

Ron is marking time in his St. Lawrence high school until he is old enough to quit and find a job, like his older brothers in Toronto. His attitude infuriates his father, who is already angry that a strike he doesn't support has put him out of work. An indifferent student at best, Ron chooses to research the strike as a school assignment, not because he is interested in the topic, but just to annoy his father. His research takes the form of interviews with a retired miner who draws him into the topic despite his initial lack of interest. As Ron learns the history behind the issues, he comes to understand and appreciate his father somewhat better, especially when he learns that his father's cough is not simply a smoker's hack.

     Dorion portrays 14-year-old Ron as a typical adolescent who is subject to peer pressure and the need to be cool. His lack of motivation, his relationships with others, and his preoccupation with his image all seem to indicate a shallow individual. But slowly readers see him develop a social conscience and a more caring nature, including a grudging respect for the girl with whom he works on the school project. His wry observations, couched in their unique Newfoundland dialect, remain amusing but are less biting and critical as he becomes more sensitive to those around him.

     While this story is about Ron's adolescent concerns, it is also firmly grounded in Newfoundland outport life of twenty-five years ago and explores the universal toll a strike takes in a small company town. Through the convention of the old miner talking about his life, Dorion reveals the appalling conditions that existed in the mines and conveys the union point-of-view. Through Ron's conversations with a girl whose father is a manager and his arguments with his own father, the author presents other perspectives on the strike. Readers cannot fail to come away with a clearer understanding of the many issues involved in labour disputes and how they affect communities.


Alison Mews is the Director of the Curriculum materials Centre at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, NF.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364