________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 19 . . . . May 27, 2005


Ellen Fremedon.

Joan Givner.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2004.
219 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88899-640-3 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-557-1 (cl.).

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.

* /4


We were just heading back to get more pages of the petition when Dad came driving up.

“I’ve been looking for you two all over the place,” he said. “Get in and come home immediately.”

He looked so upset that I thought Mum collapsed, but he wouldn’t tell us what had happened.

When we got to the house, Cathy Banks was just pulling up outside. The twins and Mum were waiting for us.

“Don’t look so worried, Ellen,” Mum said. “It may not be that serious.”

“What may not be?” I said.

“The fact is,” said Dad, “we’ve had a threatening phone call, indicating that if we don’t stop circulating petitions, something terrible will happen to you children.”

“Was it a death threat?” said the twins, looking excited.

“Who made the call?” I said.

“Anonymous,” Dad said.

“Anonymous!” I said. “Isn’t that someone who writes poems and ballads?”

Ellen Fremedon is excited about her new project: writing a novel. As she looks around for plot ideas, she and her twin brothers enjoy playing in the neighbouring abandoned yard, Satis Lodge -- that is, until the Meggitts move in. Their new neighbours, deemed ‘‘The Two Maggots’’ by the twins, quickly alienate Ellen’s environmentally conscious family by spraying pesticides, burning garbage, and cutting down trees. Subsequently, the Fremedons learn about a plan to build a subdivision over the town’s aquifer, which would contaminate the water supply. As the family fights for its aquifer, Ellen’s writing project becomes influenced by her involvement in their community’s environmental crisis.

     In a world filled with growing awareness about the world’s deteriorating environment and endangered species, it is possible that novels that deal with such topics will become more prominent in young adult literature; however, the clumsy Ellen Fremedon will not be one of them. Taking into account the inconsistent narrative style of a book-within-a-book, the lack of character development, and the weak dialogue construction, not many children will voluntarily read Ellen Fremedon.

     The unappealing cover illustration, featuring a dreaming young girl (who looks as though she’s about 10-years-old) and a pair of mischievous boys, is the first hint about its lack of interest for young readers. The book does not look attractive to its target audience of 11- to 13-year-old girls, as it seems to label the book for younger readers.

     In general, the quality of the illustration is indicative of the novel itself: it was a disappointing read. In particular, the poor structure of the book overwhelms the author’s effort to educate her readers about the importance of environmental action. For example, Givner skips over the story’s climax of finding the twins after they’ve been kidnapped (as part of the sinister plot to build homes over the aquifer). Instead of describing the action, Ellen begins a philosophical new chapter in her novel: “The problem with writing a book is that half the time you’re thinking nothing’s happening that’s worth writing about. Then, when exciting things do happen, you’re too busy to write anything down. So by the time the twins were found and all the fuss had died down, I hadn’t written a word, and I thought it was too late to catch up.” Teenagers love suspenseful novels -- neglecting to highlight the high point of the novel to its fullest will frustrate readers.

     Then, although it is apparent to the reader that the climax has ended with the recovery of the twins, the book, itself, is only about three-fourths complete. Instead, Ellen continues to ramble on at length about events unrelated to the aquifer crisis and the kidnapping, such as Jenny’s mother moving in with a female RCMP officer -- a confusing way to end Ellen’s story.

     The only appealing quality of Ellen Fremedon, in fact, is Givner’s use of humour to pull her readers through the difficult discussions about environmental action:

This time when Mum told us Gran was coming, she said to the twins, “I absolutely forbid you two to ask her if she’s ever committed adultery.”

They’d been asking this question a lot lately.

“We thought we were never supposed to be afraid of asking questions, in case we grow up ignorant,” they said.

“This is the exception,” Mum said.

     However, despite Givner’s combination of wit with important talk on environmental issues, I do not recommend this novel. From its unappealing cover to the poorly constructed dialogue, teenagers will most likely not pick up Ellen Fremedon from the shelf, let alone read all 219 pages.

Not Recommended.

Pam Klassen-Dueck is a Grade 8 teacher at Gillis School in Tyndall, MB.

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

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