________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 10 . . . . January 11, 2008


Crossbow. (Orca Currents).

Dayle Campbell Gaetz.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
105 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-841-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55143-843-6 (hc.).

Grades 4-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Devon Greyson.

**** /4


“This your cabin?”

The voice came from nowhere and everywhere at once. It rose out of the mist and floated down from the trees. I froze, my heart pounding, and stared down at the club in my hand.  It looked useless now. Feeble. The fire crackled cheerfully in front of me. Behind me the forest hung silent and cold.

The stranger stood up. He turned toward my hiding place. His pale eyes seemed to bore right into mine. “I asked you a question, boy. Is this your cabin?”

My eyes fell to his black boots. I swallowed and knew I couldn’t speak. You can’t speak when your throat seizes up so bad you can barely breathe. How did he know I was here? Did he hear the leaves rustle when I shifted position? Even then, how could he know I was a boy? He couldn’t see me, I was sure of that. So I could be anything – a bird, a cougar, a man.

“You may as well come out.” He didn’t move, he simply stood there, waiting.


Fourteen-year-old Matt’s goal in life is to become a hermit. In the months since the terrible accident that took his father and grandmother away and left him full of guilt and anger, Matt has retreated into the woods, honing his hermit skills. This career path dismays Matt’s well-intentioned mother who doesn’t understand why he self-isolated in the woods, rather than hanging out with the girl next door the way he used to. When Matt sets off for his first overnight camp-out in the cabin he has built, he finds a surprise waiting for him – a stranger who will change his life. 

     Forest is a former logger who believed in sustainable forestry until he lost everything and took up the life of a vagrant. Moving into Matt’s cabin, he assumes the role of temporary father-figure for the teen, encouraging Matt’s hermit fantasies and teaching him to hunt with the gift of a crossbow. However, Forest and Matt both have troubled pasts that threaten to catch up with them via their anti-social behaviours. Forest swings between being a kind teacher one minute and a rageful criminal the next, and when he almost shoots an endangered Roosevelt Elk, Matt is forced to question his ethics. Could Forest’s sudden appearance have something to do with a rash of local home and cabin break-ins? Matt tries to ignore the growing questions about his new friend’s identity, but he has trouble balancing schoolwork and his new secret, and when his lies catch up with him, a cascade of events ends in a thrilling shootout in the cabin.

     Crossbow is half nature survival story, half modern realistic suspense thriller, and an all-around good book. The descriptive language is lush in places, yet balanced with enough action to keep things moving along. This ‘hi-lo’ book, part of the “Orca Currents” series, will convert any reader who still associates the genre with melodramatic morality tales full of simplistic prose and constant action. On the contrary, Crossbow is a book that will appeal to readers of many levels and will have particularly strong interest among boys. 

     In telling the story of a traumatized and grieving teen grappling with feelings of loss and betrayal, Dayle Campbell Gaetz taps into a universal theme of whether to turn to nature or humanity for support and solace – a theme that will resonate for many young people. The book is well-paced, sustaining suspense as both Matt’s and Forest’s secrets come out little by little. It does a good job of exploring the stage of adolescence when a teen is gaining independence but not yet able to fully handle adult decisions. Crossbow would be a great addition to school and public libraries serving younger adolescents.

Highly Recommended.

Devon Greyson is a Librarian at the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research in Vancouver, BC.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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