________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005



Don Trembath.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
200 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55143-261-7.

Subject Headings:
Problem youth-Juvenile fiction.
Bowling-Juvenile fiction.
People with mental disabilities-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review By Michael Groberman.

*** /4


Mrs. Helmsley [the principal] stared at Rooster for another moment, then she looked at Mrs. Nixon [the guidance counselor], then back at Rooster. “All right,” she said finally. “Get out.”

Rooster began to lift himself from off the chair. “Finally someone who listens to me around here.”

“But if you go now, you leave this office, you leave this school, and you never come back. Not this year, not next year, not the year after that. You’re through.” She spoke with the power and clarity of a judge sentencing a criminal. “We’ve broken our backs for you in here. We’ve put up with your bad behaviour, your poor performance, your disrespect. Not anymore. If you get off that chair and leave this office, you’re done. That’s it.”

Rooster froze in mid-motion. The game had changed to hardball, as his stepdad, Irving, would say, and he was woefully unprepared for it.

Mrs. Helmsley continued. “It’s not my wish to fill my hometown with high-school dropouts. But I am not going to stand here and watch you walk away from an opportunity to get it right, for the first time in your life, and say nothing. That’s not my style. So go now and be done for good, or stick around and try to make something of yourself. Take your pick.”

For a kid like Rooster, the future holds very little. The title character in this story of personal growth is approaching the end of grade 12 in a high school in a small Alberta town. He has friends and a girlfriend and enjoys his life of skipping classes, acting smart with teachers, and partying. His teachers, guidance counselor and principal hold no hope for his future. But one day, near the end of the school year, his principal and counselor give him one last chance.

     He may become a volunteer at the nearby recreation centre for adults with mental disabilities. If the group of four adults, called the Strikers, accept him, Rooster will accompany them on their regular visits to a bowling alley. If he succeeds in this volunteer activity, the administration might find a way to see him graduate, and, they think, he might also mature and discover he has a future. Rooster’s first response is a flat “No.” but then, as seen in the excerpt above, he is pressured into giving it a try.

     The fish-out-of-water episode, where Rooster interacts with the bowlers at the recreation centre, is the core of Don Trembath’s novel. It provides Rooster with an occasion to which he may or may not rise. He goes from resenting these unusual adult bowlers to becoming their protector, resenting the way they are treated by the infantilizing staff at the recreation centre and discovering that these adults are unusual and OK just like he is. He begins to see that he is their equal. Rooster’s emotional growth occurs within a storyline that is clear and compelling, but more focused on humor than on Rooster’s interior monologue.

     The story is not as moving as it wants to be. The death of one of the bowlers, for example, takes too many pages because the author believes the episode more interesting than it is.

     The story ends, oddly, with Rooster rediscovering that he may have a talent for writing because he got an A in grade six for a paper he wrote about his father’s funeral. There has been only passing evidence early in the story of Rooster's talent and fondness for writing. For example, on page 4, his English teacher reflects to herself that much of Rooster's writing is good, and, on page 29, he agrees with Jolene that he is both interested in and good at writing, though he does not actually write much. This material does not sufficiently foreshadow the ending. It is forgotten by the time the ending comes about so that Rooster's decision to pursue an interest in writing, rather than in community work, seems to come out of nowhere.

     And the novel's focus on humorous events, instead of more closely following Rooster’s interior experience of maturation, robs the story of a strong through-line.

     Still, Rooster is a sympathetic figure, and it is a pleasure to follow his interactions with friends and teachers and then the unknown. Once we discover he is loser with no future, we begin rooting for him, and it is satisfying enough that he finds an interest worth pursuing by the end of the book.

     The humour and simple language are sufficient to make this book an easy and delightful read, especially for older boys who are not regular readers.

     Rooster is by Don Trembath, whose previous works for young adults include The Tuesday Café, A Fly Named Alfred, A Beautiful Place on Yonge Street and The Popsicle Journal.


Michael Groberman is a library studies student at the University of British Columbia with a special interest in children’s literature.


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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.