CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006
An Ordinary Courage completes Karmel Schreyer’s trilogy of novels about Naomi Nazarevich and her teen years spent in Asia. In book one, 12-year-old Naomi lives with her mother in Japan. The second installment follows Naomi to Hong Kong. In the final book, Naomi is 18 and living in Indonesia with an expanded family that includes her new step dad, Steve, and a young adopted Chinese sister named Mei-mei. The four arrive at a hotel in Jakarta on September 11, 2001, for a brief stopover before continuing on to Lombok where Steve will begin his new posting with the UN. However, the group’s exuberant mood is quickly dashed by the discovery that two aircraft have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, killing nearly 3000 people. This news distresses the family and also frightens them since the terrorists responsible for this horrible act are believed to be Muslim and Indonesia is largely a Muslim country. Nevertheless, they continue on their way and quickly settle into their new tropical island home. Steve begins work on Lombok’s much-needed wastewater disposal plant while Naomi, her mother, and Farah, the wife of one of Steve’s coworkers, prepare to open an English language school.
For the most part, the novel focuses on the political unrest of the area as it escalates into disaster. Schreyer also throws in a not-quite romance for Naomi, some cultural lessons for readers, and a daring escape from Lombok. The loose ends are tied up in the final chapter where a reporter is fed all the details by a 22-year-old Naomi about to embark on her own United Nations career.
Schreyer is to be admired for sharing her knowledge of Indonesia and its culture and for trying to teach young readers about 9/11 and its far-reaching effects. Unfortunately, her approach is not likely to appeal to her target audience, and that is because it is constructed around the ‘big’ picture, and young readers need to relate to events on a more personal level. Having the characters of the novel argue about world issues does not personalize them, and since that is generally the way Schreyer has presented most of the facts, the story tends to bog down. In addition, her style is to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’, an approach which slows things up even more. The one exception is the escape scene near the end. That was powerful and exciting, and it really moved. If Schreyer had written the rest of the novel the way she wrote that scene, her story would have a much greater impact.
These shortcomings aside, the most irritating thing about this novel was the editing – or lack thereof. The book was riddled with typos, grammatical errors, and character misidentification. I can’t count the number of times I had to stop and reread passages to try to figure out who was talking or doing something. When readers pay $15.00 for a book, they deserve better.
Recommended with reservations.
Kristin Butcher lives in Campbell River, BC, and writes for children and young adults.
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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.