________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 8 . . . . December 14, 2001

cover Letters from Tom.

Janet Read.
Ottawa, ON: Borealis Press, 2001.
95 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 0-88887-247-X.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Tony Payzant.

**1/2 /4


Perhaps the cold had woken her up, but something else was wrong too. She felt disoriented and dizzy. In the faint light from the streetlight her room looked different, stripped down, as if the furniture had shifted itself about while she slept. The dresser was bare and a washbasin and pitcher stood on it, ghostly white with a blue floral pattern she could barely see in the dim light. Even her bed felt smaller and the comforter seemed rougher, like wool, and scratchy, under her chin.

"Swoop, Swoop," she called softly. Molly heard scratching against the wall beside her. She jumped out of bed and turned on her lamp. The room swirled for a moment, like the view from the Spinovator ride at the fair, everything blurring in bands of colour until the ride stops and you get off, dizzy, waiting for the world to settle down. That was exactly the feeling she had as her feet touched the pine floor. She reached for the lamp and switched it on. The light shifted everything back in a flash. She opened the cupboard in the wall and let Swoop out.

"Janet Read employs a sort of time warp device to lure young readers to the story of teenaged Irish siblings separated early in the twentieth century. Their letters tell the tale of Tom Currie, enduring the miseries of a WWI soldier's life in trenches in France, and his sister, Susan, sent to Canada to work as a maid at an inn. Molly, a 13-year-old whose present-day home was once Susan's inn, discovers the letters intermittently as they are by turns dragged from closets by Molly's cat or mysteriously transported through more than eighty years by the ghostly hand of Susan.

     Molly and her friend Emma come to the conclusion that Susan's lifetime is converging with theirs in order that they might somehow come to her aid. This they accomplish by composing an encouraging letter (ostensibly from Susan) to an ailing Tom, and furthermore surmount the rather long odds of mailing it to him across the years!

     This bridging of past and present is an interesting vehicle: Letters from Tom is historical novel and ghostly mystery rolled into one. The very slight dabbling into Einstein's Theory of Relativity might have been fleshed out more: here it appears almost as mere name-dropping. Molly and Emma's assumption that their help is required seemed somewhat baseless, as the ghostly Susan never quite communicates with them other than by periodically dropping her possessions into their era. The book suffers somewhat from inadequate editing (witness the lamp being turned on twice in the excerpt!); punctuation is erratic in places.

     Nevertheless, this tale of a long-ago soldier and his sister, a story that could have seemed bland to today's young readers, has been given an appealing injection of modern intrigue.


Tony Payzant is a content editor living in Dartmouth, NS.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364