CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005
False Start follows a simple but believable plot line, and it should especially interest children who are interested in sports or animals. Caitlynn Sinclair is an energetic and passionate nine-year-old in Grade 4 who lives with her mother and her older brother, Colin. Since Caitlynn's mother and father have separated and her father has moved away, Caitlynn's grandfather has also come to live with them in a suite in the basement. An injured Caitlynn resists joining the swim team at first because she loves soccer, but Grandpa promises to take her to each practice, and their relationship becomes even stronger as a result. Indeed, the theme that makes this book special is the relationship between Caitlynn and her grandfather. Through this relationship, Caitlynn learns about commitment, helping others, and how her role in the family is changing and becoming more important.
Caitlynn learns that she must work hard in order to become a skilled swimmer, and, as her grandfather always reminds her, she must focus on one thing at a time in order to improve. Grandpa demonstrates commitment to Caitlynn as he drives her to practice three times each week and stays to watch from the bleachers. Caitlynn works hard during practice and is always rewarded when she looks up to see her grandfather smiling or giving her the thumbs up gesture. At the first meet, Caitlynn is excited but still finds the challenge difficult. Her fears and obstacles are ones to which many children can relate. Diersch describes one of Caitlynn's swim meets where she faces challenges and attains a personal victory:
Caitlynn learns about commitment in another, perhaps harder way. Later in the story, Grandpa has a stroke. Not surprisingly, Caitlynn finds it hard to concentrate on swimming when she is so worried about her grandfather. However, Caitlynn's mother tells her that she must keep going to her practices because her grandfather would want her to do so. She learns that commitment is sometimes very difficult, but she also learns about herself, and she discovers that the only reward she requires is for her grandfather to be proud of her. There is a wonderful scene in which Caitlynn visits Grandpa, and he struggles through his loss of his ability to speak clearly to remind her that the two of them had made a pact. If he works hard to recover from his stroke, then she must work hard to improve at the pool. Caitlynn realizes that commitment is an essential and honourable quality.
Caitlynn learns about helping other people selflessly through experiences she shares with her grandfather. When Caitlynn first goes to Silver Valley nursing home with her grandfather and his dog, Maggie, she finds the situation scary and confusing. Her reaction seems very realistic for a nine-year-old who does not yet understand sickness and the complications of growing old. Grandpa is patient with the residents, repeating himself and staying calm despite emotional outbursts. He also takes the time to explain why some of the elderly people at the home are immobile, act childishly and are disoriented. At the end of the visit, Caitlynn is happy to leave. When grandpa suggests that she return with him for another visit, Caitlynn initially resists, but Grandpa explains that her happy face helps to cheer up the residents. In addition, Caitlynn learns that she can make her grandfather proud just by being herself, and she discovers that there are good things about visiting the seniors residence, including the candies given her by some of the residents.
Later in the story, Caitlynn visits the hospital and then the senior's residence to see her grandfather. Initially, Caitlynn is upset by the startling surroundings and the shock of her grandfather's incapacitated state. However, she eventually understands that her grandfather needs her to help him by supporting him and by loving him.
Caitlynn's role in her family changes as a result of her grandfather's stroke. When Grandpa becomes frustrated with his recovery process, it is Caitlynn this time who must remind him of their deal to both work hard to get better. Also, when Grandpa is no longer available to help Caitlynn with her homework, she asks her brother Colin for help. Instead of fighting with her brother, Caitlynn learns how to ask for help and to forge a new relationship with her brother who is also upset about his grandfather's state. Perhaps most importantly, Caitlynn learns to be patient with her mother. Instead of complaining and becoming angry at her mother when she is upset about her grandfather, Caitlynn realizes that her mother is also suffering. Caitlynn matures into a more thoughtful and understanding young woman.
False Start is a realistic and interesting portrayal of a young girl who faces tough challenges in her life. Initially, Caitlynn is a spunky and rambunctious child. During the course of the story, she faces a bully, the separation of her parents, and most tragically, her grandfather's stroke. Understandably, Caitlynn sometimes reacts immaturely, but she learns and grows from each of these experiences. The most beautiful aspect of this story is the relationship between Caitlynn and her grandfather. Although the dynamics of the relationship change, these two characters remain committed to one another.
Dana Eagles-Daley is a Special Education Teacher and Yoga Instructor in Ottawa, ON.
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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.