CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 2004
Lizzie's Storm, written by Sally Fitz-Gibbon for the series, is the story of nine-year-old Lizzie's "new beginning." After losing her parents to a car crash, she finds herself on a whole different continent and part of her careworn aunt's silent family whose rather difficult life is a stark contrast to her comfortable former one in London. In real life, given the traumatic circumstances, Lizzie's transition would be a long and complex process, the culmination of many small events; in the book, it takes two weeks. It's entirely possible in fiction to circumvent the slow pace of reality by focusing on a pivotal event, but the book's big storm remains strangely disconnected from Lizzie's story. It's not the storm -- its occurrence fits in seamlessly with the details of farm life in Depression-era North Dakota - but Lizzie's participation in a solo rescue mission that's out of place. Even if readers could accept that Lizzie heard her aunt call through the storm - an impossibility even the characters acknowledge - nobody would believe Lizzie capable of such heroism. Throughout the story, Lizzie shows herself to be self-absorbed, docile, and timid. Her "rebelliousness" is limited to grumpy thoughts, small acts of deception and fits of pouting, none of which suggest a deeply buried reservoir of courage. Nothing prepares readers for the aftermath of the rescue either, which drifts uneasily into feel-good territory: "But she knew they loved her. And that made all the difference." How did the rescue prove that her new family loved her? Was it ever even in doubt? Robert and Seth didn't play half as many pranks as they might have, and her aunt and uncle were never anything but kind.
The inadequate preparatory structure leaves the reader wondering what might have been sacrificed to condense what should have been a much more complex emotional journey. There is much description and little dialogue. And while none of the meticulous details of everyday farm life, the dangers and realities of the prairie, or the gentle, diffuse illustrations by Muriel Wood should be sacrificed, Lizzie's thoughts are relentless and repetitious and consume precious space. The book is short, a mere 11 chapters averaging four pages each, including pictures. Short books are eminently suitable for an introductory series, but better use of limited space is essential, especially when the middle is what makes the book.
Cora Lee is a Vancouver, BC, writer and editor.
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