________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006

cover Holly Bank (A Victory Wild Mystery).

Alexandra Christensen.
Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006.
111 pp., pbk., $8.99 (US).
ISBN 1-4259-0683-4.  

Grades 4-7 / Ages 8-12. 

Review by Jonine Bergen.  

* /4


It didn't seem to matter how much time I spend at Holly Bank, it always gave me the same feeling. As I stood in the driveway looking up at the old mansion, chills ran down my spine. Its cold stone walls and dark windows were haunting, and the large, looming trees looked like they had witnessed centuries of sorrow. 


Alexandra Christensen's first novel is meant to be a tribute to a place she visited as a child. Within the Holly Bank setting, she has tried to weave a mystery involving a cast of ghosts, a young girl and her loving grandparents, and a missing flute. I really wanted to like this book because I admire the author's tenacity in self-publishing this obvious act of love. However, the story does not deliver on the promise of mystery and age suggested by the sepia-toned sketch of an old door of a mansion on the cover.  

     Victory Wild visits her grandparents every weekend at their home, Holly Bank. Though the first paragraph quoted above suggests otherwise, Victory seems to enjoy her frequent visits. During this visit, Victory makes friends with a girl ghost, Penny, who was living at Holly Bank when she died riding her horse many years before. Penny cannot find the flute her parents had given her, and she asks Victory to find it for her.  

     While hunting for the flute, Victory meets four other ghosts and a garden elf. Unfortunately, these characters, like Victory herself, are as flat as the beige pages they are written on. The only character that is given any life is the grandmother, Nana. However, she is presented as a background character who has no influence in the advancement of the plot. Holly Bank should be an intrinsic character in the plot. Again, details are lacking which would provide context and a time frame for the reader. 

     Although the author has chosen to use a first person narrative, which should bring Victory to life and provide a unique perspective to the characters and setting surrounding her, Alexandra Christensen rarely uses Victory as a tool to describe or to explain fully what is happening. Victory only gives the facts of the case without any background information or supposition. 

     The result is a choppy narrative that has little sense of place or flow. An analysis of the first chapter aptly captures the difficulties with this novel. Victory arrives at the spooky mansion. Her very active grandmother takes her to the sewing room to try on a dress. She goes out to find her grandfather, who, her grandmother says, is in the garden. In the next chapter, Nana tells Victory her grandfather was in the garage. None of this advances the plot or sets a tone for the rest of the action, though it does cause confusion for the reader. Too much of the book consists of trivial information which does not add to the story line, the development of characters, or the mood. 

     Holly Bank would benefit from an editor to assist the author in focusing the storyline. Reading this story reminds me of my teaching days. I wanted to have a pencil to jot in the margins, "Why?"; "How does this advance the plot?"; "Needs more description" and so forth. Alexandra Christensen's admiration for her grandparents is readily apparent in this novel. Perhaps her next novel should explore her grandparents’ relationship to each other and to their grandchildren. The axiom "write what you know" applies here. Focusing on some of the adventures the author may have had at Holly Bank could give her writing a credibility that is lacking in this “Victory Wild” book. 

     I asked two sisters to review Holly Bank with me. The 11-year-old said it jumped around too much. She also indicated it was hard to know what was important and what wasn't. Victory Wild did not sustain the seven-year-old sister's interest. She did not finish the book prior to this review being written.  

Not recommended. 

Jonine Bergen works at the Millennium Library and is a student in the Library and Information Technology program at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB.   

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

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