________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006



Heather Waldorf.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2006.
228 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-88995-347-3.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

***½ /4


"I want--WANTED--to write books. Novels. Great works of fiction!"


"WHY?" No one had ever asked me "why." I'd just assumed the "why" was a given, that writing was a compulsion, not a choice. Something that I hoped could be treated with Prozac or painkillers if necessary. "Well," I stammered, "I've always liked the idea of taking risks on paper, constructing characters and putting them into situations that I might never attempt or experience in real life. It's like...if a fictional character screws up big time, or gets embarrassed, or hurt, no one in real life suffers. You know?"

"Sounds kind of cowardly," Kerry said."Writing is cowardly?"

"Not at all. But that reason is."

I could feel my hackles rising. Kerry was morphing into Mr. Pollen with pecs. I almost laughed at the image until I realized that Mr. Pollen's pecs had been sliced open wide during his heart surgery. "Why is that, Kerry?" I choked.

"Think about it. You talk about creating this parallel storybook universe where people say and do the things you'd LIKE to do in real life, but don't have the guts. Don't you think your writing would be stronger if you lived a little more outside your head, if you let yourself have a little fun and disaster in your life, then write about it?"

Yeah, like telling Sam I loved him. That was a smooth move, allright. Like coming to Lake Ringrose and finding that sketchbook that left me with more questions than answers about my mother. Like learning to paddle a canoe and drive an ATV and dig worms with the likes of Kerry.

Grist-gathering was risky business. My heart wasn't closed to it, but my head was flashing neon warning signs: DANGER AHEAD.


Would-be writer Charlena (aka Charlie) is prepared to embark on a less-than-stellar summer. Her options leave much to be desired, in her opinion. With Mike, her father, teaching in Toronto for the summer, she has been given three choices. First, she could spend the time with Mike and his new girlfriend, Barb, a woman with whom she has absolutely nothing in common. Secondly, she could stay in Springdale and volunteer at a summer camp for her homeroom teacher. Or she could spend the summer at Lake Ringrose with her Grandma Josie. Not enthused about any of her options, she has chosen the last one. To make matters worse, she had ended the school year by storming out of her creative writing teacher's office in a fit of temper, only to find out later that he had suffered a heart attack shortly thereafter. And on top of it all, she is still pining over the loss of her best friend Sam who moved to Australia with his family. Not much to look forward to this summer, she figures.

     And then she arrives in Lake Ringrose and meets Kerry. A bit of a playboy like his recently deceased father, Kerry is recovering both physically and emotionally from a terrible snowmobile accident, an accident which had left him badly wounded and had taken his father's life. Charlie and Kerry seem to really click, and each offers the other the support and encouragement that they need to confront their own personal demons. Yet, Gram's and Kerry's mother both seem strangely alarmed about the two of them becoming too close. For that reason, the pair decide to keep quiet when their relationship takes a decidedly romantic turn.

     But the summer means more to Charlie than just her first boyfriend. Being in the house where her mother had grown up, in the community where everyone immediately recognizes her as Geri's daughter, Charlie has the opportunity to reconnect, in a sense, with the mother she had barely gotten to know before her death of cancer when Charlie was only four. She finds an old sketchbook of her mother's and begins to see some uncomfortable parallels between them in terms of their "artistic temperaments." Before the summer's end, however, Grams has some startling revelations for Charlie, revelations that threaten to undermine every significant relationship in her life.

     Like in her first novel for young adults, Fighting the Current, Waldorf manages to incorporate numerous issues in this book, and yet she does so in a way that allows the book to shine as a thoughtful, engaging read rather than feeling leaden with the weight of too much teen angst. The characters are truly winsome, well-realized and believably flawed; the small-town flavour of the community is beautifully evoked and the issues that are raised are handled sensitively but without melodrama. It is a compelling book that is peopled with characters who are utterly true-to-life; they are people I'd like to know, people whose stories I genuinely cared about. It is also uplifting to find in Charlie a protagonist who can be faced with shocking news and cope, which is the reality for many contemporary teens. She is insightful enough to recognize, ultimately, that, if she truly wants to pursue a career as a writer, she needs to swallow her pride and accept well-meaning criticisms; she is honest enough to acknowledge that she is being selfish when she wants to advise Sam to come back to Canada rather than staying in Australia with his family, and she is refreshingly mature enough to see beyond her feelings of hurt and confusion to appreciate that Mike's love for her is a gift. Waldorf has crafted a fine novel that resonates with hope, love and self-discovery. The "grist" that she has used to fashion this story has been skillfully woven into an impressive book for young adult readers.

Highly Recommended.

Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.


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

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