________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006



Eric Walters.
Toronto, ON: Viking Canada, 2006.
192 pp., cloth, $20.00.
ISBN 0-670-06366-5.

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Jen Waters.

*** /4


He stopped in the middle of the small wooden bridge spanning a creek that cut through the park. "Do you know what I think of every time I cross over this bridge?"

Of course I didn't know, but I didn't think he expected an answer.

"I think of bodies. A river full of bloated human bodies, dumped in a river, so thick that they formed a blockage across the river where it went under a bridge. And people had to haul those bodies out, drag them up onto the shore and dump them back into the river on the other side of the bridge to stop that log-jam of human beings from causing a flood. And each time they pulled out a body, another drifted down the river to take its place.

I stared down at the creek. There was a grocery cart embedded in the mud of the bank, and a white plastic bag, caught in the current, twisted and turned as it floated along with the current and then disappeared under our feet. But as Jack stood there, staring down, I knew he hadn't seen the plastic bag. He was seeing those bodies floating by … He was seeing Hell.

When Ian takes a volunteer job working at a soup kitchen, a requirement to complete his high school Civics (Social Studies) class, he never imagined that it would change his outlook on life. A spoiled rich kid from the suburbs, his only motivation is not completing the class but rather being rewarded with a car from his workaholic parents. As he is walking to the soup kitchen on that first day, a near mugging brings him into contact with a homeless man called "Sarge" who saves him from being robbed. Ian meets Sarge, whose real name is Jacques, or Jack, a short time later again at the soup kitchen. Upon finding out from Mac (the owner and operator of the kitchen) that Jack was once in the Armed Forces, Ian interviews Jack. Ian's class is studying Canadian peacekeepers, and his teacher has coerced him into conducting the interview. During his time in the Armed Forces, Jack served in a number of countries including Rwanda. This brings up a whole host of questions that Ian has to answer himself when Jack is shocked to find out that Ian knows nothing about Rwanda.

     In researching the topic, Ian discovers the terrible genocide that was previously unknown to him, and the next day in class the teacher points out that, while the teens might be aware of the Holocaust, there are many other relatively recent acts of genocide that have occurred worldwide: the genocide of Armenians, Cambodians, Yugoslavians, and the 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda. While some of the teens make light of this news, others are dumbfounded: "800,000 people in a 100 day period? That can't be right - we would have heard about it!" one boy says, and this truly highlights the relevance of the novel. There are likely many teens who have not yet learned about any acts of genocide outside of the Holocaust, and, while this book will be a good teaching tool for Social Studies classes, it will also be of great interest to teens who want to learn more about world events.

     Walters makes a very intelligent move in comparing Rwanda to the events of September 11, 2001 as Jack says that Rwanda was equivalent to two planes crashing into two towers every day for 265 straight days. Moreover, for the United Nation workers in Rwanda, "it was like watching the planes crashing and going to the airport and telling them not to let any more planes leave, but nobody listened to us and two more planes took off and crashed. And we went back to warn them and another two planes took off, and two more the next day, and the next…" This a relevant parallel for Walters to draw, because 9/11 is probably the only tragic event that is recent enough for teens to recognize. A 16-year-old today would only have been four-years-old in 1994 when the genocide in Rwanda occurred, and the other events happened long ago enough that they would not even enter a teen's limited frame of reference.

     Teachers will certainly love this book, but one wonders if teens will like it as well. At times, Shattered becomes a moralistic tearjerker as Walters attempts to tackle a few too many issues. In addition to genocide, homelessness and alcoholism are addressed, as well as government cruelty (Ian's housekeeper and nanny Berta witnessed the "disappearance" of her family in Guatemala). There are many difficult questions asked that cannot be answered, such as how the United Nations was also at fault in Rwanda, but one has to give Walters credit for bringing these questions into the minds of teens so they can research them more on their own time. It was an interesting choice to introduce the topic of genocide through a homeless man who experienced Rwanda and will never be the same, a man who is treated like a reject rather than a hero upon returning from war. With a foreword from General Romeo Dallaire, Commander for the United Nations mission to Rwanda and author of Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Shattered reads somewhat like a starter course to that book, and, while often didactic, it offers a stimulating read to teens who want to know more about some of the darker hours of world history.


Jen Waters is the Teen Services Librarian at the Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.

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

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