________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005


The Whistle.

Valerie Rolfe Lupini.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2005.
197 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-88995-314-7.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

**** /4


She felt compelled to put the whistle to her lips, blowing a single, sharp note.

Even as the tone of the whistle was still ringing in her ear, Mary’s muscles twitched like they do sometimes when sleep is almost certain. Her eyes grew heavy. She struggled to open them, but felt a dizzying vortex drawing her down. Gripping the chair’s arms couldn’t stop her from whirling on and on through an enveloping space. Panic overwhelmed her, as she fought against a numbing feeling. It felt as if all her muscles and bones were draining away until the only feeling left was her heart lashing at her rib cage.

Though her eyes were squeezed tight to endure the sensation, Mary could make out an airy body in the blackness of her mind. She saw a ghostly shape in the distance that looked all the while like herself – spinning in synchrony with Mary, willing her toward it, closer and closer, until they were one. At this moment, Mary felt a welcome calm.


Sooner or later, most writers of fiction for children are tempted to try their hand at time travel. Though this fantasy genre has certain formulaic elements – the travel trigger, parallel plotlines, and symbiotic connections – it nevertheless allows authors to indulge their imaginations beyond the usual scope. Rarely, however, is the finished product as marvelously crafted and downright riveting as The Whistle by Valerie Rolfe Lupini.

     While visiting her beloved grandfather, teenaged Mary discovers an old dog whistle. Compelled to blow it, she finds herself thrust backwards in time to the early 1900’s. However, she is not merely a visitor or an observer in this time; she is, in fact, the great-aunt for whom she was named, and – according to family members – for whom she bears an uncanny resemblance. This melding of identities not only gives Mary an opportunity to get to know family members she has only heard stories about; it also allows her to experience a critical time in her grandfather’s life and make right a wrong that has troubled him for over 65 years.

     The dog whistle belonged to Mary’s great-grandfather, so it is a very real item in both the past and the present, and whenever it is blown Mary travels through time. Even though she may stay in the past for months, only seconds elapse in her real world, and since her body doesn’t actually go anywhere, no one suspects a thing. Gradually, however, she finds it more and more difficult to separate the two people she has become, and the painful events she experiences while in the past emotionally drain her when she returns to her own time.

     The characters in this novel are beautifully drawn. As a result, the reader can’t help but care about them, celebrating their joyous times and suffering their tragedies. As for the plot, it is a cleverly crafted weaving. Threads are pulled from one plot into the other so effortlessly that by the story’s end, the result is a seamless tapestry.

     This novel is a reminder of the importance of family. It shows how good people can make mistakes, and it speaks to the healing power of forgiveness. Rolfe Lupini may have written The Whistle for young readers, but I recommend it for everyone.

Highly Recommended.

Kristin Butcher 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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