________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 7 . . . . November 24, 2006


Odd Man Out.

Sarah Ellis.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2006.
162 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88899-703-5 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-702-7 (cl.).

Grades 5-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Andrea Szilagyi.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.

This is another superb novel by Sarah Ellis. Odd Man Out is a multifaceted story full of imagination, suspense, family, fun, and even fear. While his mother and new stepdad go on a honeymoon, Kip travels to BC's west coast to visit his Gran at her island home. Sharing a house with his five girl cousins is only one adventure Kip faces during his stay. From writing on walls and building a yurt to being buried alive on the beach and discovering a mysterious binder that once belonged to his late father, Kip encounters a world where, downstairs, anything goes, girls rule, and ideas abound, and upstairs, in his attic, solitude comforts him, a mystery unfolds, and Kip struggles with his own ideas and memories.

Kip retreated to the living room and closed the door to an indignant ballerina duet of "But we are dressed!"

His head was buzzing.

A phrase popped into his mind. The female of the species. He was used to females. Correction: he was used to one female, his mother. Just the two of them. Except it wasn't just the two of them anymore. Kip put that thought in a box and shelved it.


     Odd Man Out will appeal to readers of all ages. This book has something for everyone: pure summer silliness and fun at the beach, espionage, issues of complex family dynamics, and conflicting thoughts and emotions swirling around in a boy's mind. One of the biggest strengths of the novel, aside from its solid plot, is in its characterization. The girls are boisterous, precocious and entertaining, though Kip doesn't always think so.

The kitchen was full of steam and girls. The Sea Urchin of Doom was boiling a big pot of water for corn.

"I told you," said Alice from atop her ladder. "He's got to be building a climbing wall. I tried that but the holes just kept crumbling."

"Nope," said Hilary. "He's making a den of iniquity."

"No fair," said Emily. “I want a den of iniquity, too."

"Do I hear whining?" said Gran.

"You don't even know what a den of iniquity is," said Alice.

"Do, too. It's like a doghouse."

Kip fingered the key hanging around his neck.

"Kip will reveal all when he's ready," said Gran. "Meanwhile, we've got some things to plan."


     Gran is also a compelling character as she facilitates debates and encourages the discussion of ideas as a means of cultivating creativity, responsibility, critical thinking, and empathy. She is also fun loving, laid back, and open minded, for the most part. I guess she would have to be adventurous to allow the girls to give her a new hairstyle which requires a lot of hair gel and a vacuum cleaner.

Rich-Gran was shocked but she kept her cool. She tried to enlist Hilary as the police but Hilary just pulled her sun visor low over her face and hid behind her book. After lengthy negotiations the ransom, consisting of half a package of mints, was paid. The kidnappers divided them up fairly. They included the bossy kidnapper and even the prisoner himself because they were not, after all, really wicked, just very, very greedy.

The prisoner made a powerful escape in a shower of sand and then everyone, young and old, rich and poor, joined him in a final swim.

They dripped all the way home.

     Another salient theme in the book has to do with blurring the lines between what is imagined and what is real. These more complex themes combine with a sense of the playfulness to add a refreshing dynamic to Ellis' familiar familial themes. As well, inquiring young minds will be satisfied by the interspersed factoids and "rarely asked questions."

     The cover comment is accurate in that it describes Odd Man Out as a "many-layered novel" that is "quirky, funny, smart, insightful, and surprising." In the end, Kip finds some answers to his questions (he even finds answers to questions he never thought of!), but his journey is one that readers won't soon forget.

     This is another successful and high quality novel from BC writer, Sarah Ellis, and, without a doubt, Odd Man Out deserves a spot on every library and classroom shelf.

Highly Recommended.

Andrea Szilagyi is a graduate student studying children's literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.


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

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