________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


The Gem Lakes.

Rob Keough.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2005.
144 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 1-894283-58-9.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.

* /4


Jake is the near perfect model of a teenage boy. He is an encyclopedia of sports stats, can name every World Series winning team's starting line-up of the past ten seasons, and can throw a football hard enough to leave a red welt on his father's chest during a game of beach football.

Jake, at this moment, is thinking about none of these things. He is thinking about the one thing that has turned his typical teenage life completely upside down. It is the thing inside him that is taking his attention.


Fourteen-year-old Jake Lucknow and his family are on their way to their cabin at the Gem Lakes, a cabin which has been in their family for generations. Jake seems to be your average teenage boy, with one distinction: his certain death sentence due to brain cancer. Determined to enjoy one last idyllic summer at the lake, he and Claire, his sister, begin a quest to find their long-missing grandfather and end with a startling discovery about Jake's health.


     Though The Gem Lakes promises to be a unique story, blending Jake's personal health problem with a wilderness adventure tale, it ends with a cluttered blend of narrators, genres, and subplots. As the story progresses, the reader is left wondering whether the story is about Jake's health, the quest to find Grandpa Lucknow, facets of Canadian history, or the unique geology of Gem Lakes. For example, the references to Canadian history are often not worked into the plot. Whole paragraphs about Canada's link to the Gold Rush are dropped in out of nowhere. For instance, at one moment Jake and Claire are searching for shelter, but the next section contains an exposition about the Succa Sunna Mining Company and the 1924 change in the earth's magnetic axis. The book buckles under the lack of careful construction.

     As well, the novel contains various editing problems, such as the repeated misuse of the word ‘literally,' neglected indentations for new paragraphs, and missed commas. The number of errors is distracting to the audience and makes the text uncomfortable to read.

     Unfortunately, The Gem Lakes strives to be too many things for teenage male readers. As a result, it does not offer compelling insights into cancer, family dynamics, geology, or Canadian history. The novel ends as a confusing and unsatisfying read.


Not recommended.

Pam Klassen-Dueck obtained her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees at the University of Manitoba. She has taught Grade 8 and Grade 11 English. Currently, she is enrolled in the pre-M.A. program at the University of Manitoba.

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

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