________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 13 . . . . February 22, 2008


New Blood. (SideStreets).

Peter McPhee.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2007.
167 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55028-996-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55028-998-5 (hc.).

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Shannon Ozirny.

*** /4


"So, Cal," Aidan asked, his mouth full of some fruit-flavoured gum. "How's it so far?"

"So far it's not that different."

"You ready? You psyched? What's going on?"

Callum shrugged and pushed his light-brown hair from his eyes.

"I suppose ah'm a wee drap feart."

"English, Cal, old buddy,"

Tyler said as he zapped aliens.

"I'm a bit nervous, I guess."

"It'll be fine," Aidan said and gave him a sharp push on the shoulder. "We don't have marauding killer gangs at this school."

Callum nodded. That wasn't what he was nervous about. He was nervous about a new school, new people, and a new country that didn't understand the way spoke or his background. He was nervous about fitting in. The last thing he needed was to stand out.

Moving from Glasgow to Winnipeg has to constitute one of the biggest culture shocks of all time. However, Callum and his family are willing to do whatever it takes to leave the past behind and forget the vicious attack that almost took Callum's life. A thoughtful, sensitive young Scot, Callum always seems to find himself in the middle of confrontation or the target of violence. Despite a valiant attempt to start over in a strange city, Callum once again finds himself caught in a web of conflict; only this time, the biggest danger comes from the most unexpected place.

     New Blood is more than just another novel about bullying. While the "new kid on the block" motif can feel tired and predictable, Callum's Scottish heritage brings a unique twist. Peter McPhee brilliantly captures a foreign perspective of a sweltering Winnipeg summer, pointing out that Callum and his family suffer from a weak immunity to mosquito bites. The family chats that take place on the deck at dusk also feel believable; this prairie native certainly remembers fleeing outside at the first sign of a cool breeze on a sweltering July evening.

     The real epicenter of McPhee's talents is his remarkable ability to describe physical pain; from the wincing reminders of old injuries, to the acute blows of fists, kicks, and blades, every moment of Callum's painful encounters is palpable and raw. Instead of staging fights from the perspective of a detached choreographer, McPhee makes readers feel every broken blood vessel and every tear of scar tissue. Teachers and librarians need not worry about intensely graphic content, however. The focus is on Callum's feelings rather than on torturous descriptions of hurt and humiliation. Think a couple steps down in intensity from The Beckoners.

     My only complaint about New Blood (an' it's just a wee ‘un) is the casual interaction between teenage characters. The dialogue falls a bit flat, the humour is a bit forced, and the teens sometimes occupy themselves with glaringly generic pursuits like listening to an "MP3 player", or playing nameless "video games" wherein they "blast aliens." In a world of iphones and Halo 3, this may feel inauthentic to readers.

     However, New Blood's conclusion is satisfying and well-written. While I'll keep any spoilers to myself, most readers will agree that even the best books about bullying tend to implode with a clichéd ending. Neither coated in cinnamon and sugar nor drenched in violence and bodily fluids, the ending of McPhee's novel is nicely restrained and believable.


Shannon Ozirny is in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia, and is also the Coordinator for the Vancouver Public Library's Canadian Book Camp.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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