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


The Third Degree. [Former title: The Stepfather Game.]

Norah McClintock.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1990/2005.
196 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 0-439-95761-3.

Subject Headins:
Sisters - Juvenile fiction.
Problem youth - Juvenile fiction.
Body Image - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Kristin Butcher

*** /4


He kept waving the spoon around, and one swipe just about caught Den on the end of the nose. Den reached out and grabbed it and tried to wrench it away from the old man, but the man held on tight. Den looked surprised that the spoon hadn’t just come away in his hand. He pulled a lot harder, but the old man not only held on, he shook Den loose. When Den cursed at him, the old man whacked him over the head with the spoon. Den yelped in pain and anger. Before anyone could stop him, he lashed out and punched the old man.

Chloe had never seen a real live person hit another real live person that hard. She’d always thought those sounds you heard in the movies were just made up. Now she knew it for sure. The real sound of one person hitting another person was much worse than anything she had ever seen in the movies.


Norah McClintock has won the Arthur Ellis Award for Crime Fiction five times, so it’s fair to say she knows how to construct a good who-dun-it. Her latest title, The Third Degree, is actually a reprint of The Stepfather Game, an earlier novel that more or less launched McClintock into the mystery writing genre. It is in this book that the central characters of her popular “Chloe and Levesque” series were born.

     Though not primarily a mystery, The Third Degree does include a crime and a good deal of interrogation – hence the title. Nevertheless, the book could just as easily have been called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The plot revolves around three teenage sisters who live with their single mother. Sired by three different fathers, the girls’ personalities, appearance, and last names are as diverse as they can possibly be. Brynn, the oldest, is a parent’s dream. She is pretty, a good student, responsible, reliable, hardworking, compassionate, and moral. It is Brynn who more or less keeps the home running smoothly. Then comes Chloe, whose father is Asian, and though Chloe is just as attractive as her sister, people continually assume she is Chinese, a situation that irks her enormously. Chloe’s only interest is Chloe. All she cares about is clothes, boys, and socializing with her friends. She is irresponsible at home and at school and is disrespectful to her family. Finally there’s Phoebe. She is the youngest, and unlike Brynn and Chloe, she is not blessed with natural good looks. In fact, she struggles with a weight problem which – combined with the constant volley of insults from Chloe – has left her with low self-esteem.

     The underlying motivation in the girls’ lives is the upcoming prom. They all want to go. Chloe is working hard to get Shadd to ask her. Brynn is staunchly resisting the advances of Evan (even though she is attracted to him), because he is her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, while Phoebe is determined to lose some weight so that somebody/anybody will ask her. Complications arise when Chloe and her friends accidentally hurt the elderly proprietor of a Chinese restaurant and then flee the scene. In her dash to escape, Chloe drops her sweater, and the police (namely Officer Levesque) come knocking on her door. In the meantime, Phoebe is taking extreme measures to lose weight, and it is endangering her health. As for Brynn, she turns Evan down only to discover her friend has moved on to someone else.

     Eventually, of course, all secrets get exposed, and lessons are learned all around, thanks in good measure to Levesque, who develops a relationship with the girls’ mother and starts spending more and more time around the home, setting the scene for subsequent novels.

     The Third Degree is an enjoyable read. The characters are well-developed, the plot is fast-paced, and the conclusion is believable. It is easy to see why young readers enjoy McClintock’s books.


Kristin Butcher, a former teacher, lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.

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

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