________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Bull’s Eye. (Orca Soundings).

Sarah Harvey.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
104 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-679-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55143-681-4 (cl.).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Ellen Wu.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


I turn the box upside down to make sure I haven't missed anything. A photo flutters out and lands on the carpet facedown. There's a date scrawled on the back - Feb 15, 1989.  Three weeks before I was born. I turn it over. My mother and Aunt Donna are standing in front of the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver's West End. I recognize it from all the times my mom and I have stayed there. In the photograph, Aunt Donna is very, very pregnant. My mother is not. I look up at my mom and she is crying silently, with her hand over her mouth. I just make it to the bathroom before I lose my breakfast, my lunch, and my mind.


Emily Bell is having a nightmarish kind of day. Not only is she at home suffering from strep throat, but she also finds out that her successful and supportive accountant mother is actually her aunt Sandra. Her biological mother is her aunt's younger sister Donna, a high-school drop-out and erstwhile aspiring actress who recently committed suicide. Betrayed and shocked, Emily flees from her adopted mother whom she now refers to as her "un-mom," and she hops on a ferry from Victoria to Vancouver. There, she searches for clues about her real parents.

     Sarah Harvey's first novel for the hi-lo “Orca Soundings” series employs the first-person, present-tense narrative to good effect, weaving Emily's more reflective moments with occasional spurts of mild profanity. Emily comes across as an intelligent, mouthy, withdrawn, compassionate, rebellious, and quirkily humorous 17-year old. In other words, she’s a protagonist many teenagers would both root for and be exasperated by. While staying in the downtown YMCA (her mother-aunt foots the bill), Emily discovers that her biological mother had an affair with her married drama teacher, got pregnant, and refused to have an abortion. Emily's attempts to track down the fired drama teacher lead her to a seedy bar, the Bull's Eye, from which the central metaphor of the novel stems.

     Packed into the book's mere 104 pages are a plethora of hot-button issues, including teenaged pregnancy, marital unfaithfulness, adoption, abortion, foster children, vandalism, and rehabilitation through community service and counselling. Such an expansive list of serious themes does not bog down the plot but does take some time away from fully dealing with the broken trust between Emily and her adoptive mother/aunt who hovers lovingly in the background for much of the novel. Emily's descent into vandalism (she spray-paints bull's-eyes on public property gets her in trouble with the law, and it is through counselling and volunteering at a daycare centre that she begins to heal from her experiences. Within the last 20 pages of the novel, Emily also befriends a child named April at the daycare centre, finds out that the girl is being abused by her parents, and enlists the help of her counsellor and aunt to make April a foster child in their family. Emily and Sandra's relationship is in part saved by their ability to save April, and Emily finally realizes that family is not people bound together by blood, but by love.

     Bull's Eye has its share of drama and pathos, but it escapes melodrama and sentimentality due to the protagonist's ability to take action on her own terms. Readers from the West Coast will also welcome the Victoria/Vancouver setting, and perhaps welcome another story featuring the resilient Emily Bell.


Ellen Wu is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at Hollins University, in Roanoke, VA.

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