CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005
Oh, the misery of being an unaccompanied minor on an Air Canada flight. I, myself, was one when I visited Winnipeg on my own when I was 12, forced to wear a red and white striped sign and treated like a six-year-old. This is the same fate of Alex and Sam, two almost -11 year-old girls travelling from Vancouver to Toronto on their own in Jean Little's Somebody Else's Summer. At first, they treat each other with the same scorn that any 10-year-old strangers would, but, somewhere over Manitoba, these unlikely seatmates discover they share many similarities and a lack of enthusiasm for their respective destinations.
Because Samantha Scott's father is off in the wilds of South America and her grandmother is having hip surgery, Sam is being sent to stay with Margaret Trueblood, an old friend of her grandmother's who runs a bookshop in Guelph. Alexis Kennedy's mom and stepfather are travelling to a conference in Australia (to which wives have been invited, but not children), and she is being sent to Heron Hill Horse Farm, also in Guelph.
These summer vacations may not seem that dreadful, but neither of the girls' interests have been taken into consideration while planning the vacations. Samantha is athletic and will be spending the summer with an old lady in a bookstore. Alex, quiet and bookish, will be learning how to ride horses and canoe. However, neither the horse people nor the book lady have met their summer visitors, thereby allowing Alex to suggest, "You know what? If we switched, they'd never notice. Then you could ride the horses and I could read the books." The girls agree to the plan and decide to switch places for the summer. Although each suffers the occasional slip-up, both Alex and Sam are able to pass off this identity switch for most of the summer until important news intended for Alex comes to Sam first.
This novel is a light summer read – enjoyable, but not terribly memorable. Little explores themes of family relationships and human/animal bonds, two themes which are often seen in her novels. Changing family situations are a main concern for the girls, and there is no shortage of creatures great and small, with horses, puppies and birds playing prominent roles in the story.
Although the adult characters are the main creators of angst in the girls' lives, most of the adults in the story are fairly one dimensional. The exception is Mr Carr, the old man with Parkinson's disease who lives next door to the Truebloods and who acts as a surrogate grandfather to both Alex and Sam. His childlike manner is refreshing as he teaches the girls Elvish (which he, himself, knows because his wife used to say she was descended from an elf), provides an old tent for the girls to have adventures in and is the only adult to hold the secret of their identify switch. His fate seems a little inevitable, but his death is nevertheless a touching moment in the novel.
There are a few too many coincidences in Somebody Else's Summer: the family Sam is staying with only live a short distance from the woman Alex is staying with (and they are also regulars is her bookshop), Mr Carr owns a copy of the obscure mystery novel written by Sam's dad, and the parrot which Alex inherits from Mr Carr is the same breed (African Grey) of bird which Alex's dad has recently purchased for a pet. Perhaps one needs to suspend her disbelief while reading Little's new novel as that is surely what the 9-12-year-old girls who are likely to enjoy the book will do.
Jen Waters is the Teen Services Librarian at the Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.
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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.