________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007


Mystery at Shildii Rock.

Robert Feagan.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2007.
167 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-55002-668-9.

Subject Heading:
Gwich'in Indians-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Diana Lynn Wilkes.

** /4


Robin climbed out of his toboggan and stood laughing over his friend. Pushing himself to his knees, Wayne glanced up and smiled sheepishly at Robin. By the time Robin noticed that Wayne's smile had transformed from sheepish to wolfish, it was too late. Gathering his weight over his knees, Wayne lunged with full force, tackling Robin square in the waist. With a resounding ooofff, Robin toppled backwards into the snow with Wayne on top. Ted and Johnny moved back as the boys flopped in the snow in a flurry of face washes.

"Okay, okay! Ted finally shouted. "We're losing daylight fast, so you two yahoos settle down and let's get going. Robin, despite the fact that was a beautiful shot, you can take over for Johnny and break trail for a while."

This novel takes place in the 1950's in the small village of Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. It is based on the author's personal experiences growing up there while his father was the local RCMP officer. Perhaps this is what makes the novel read more like a memoir in tribute to some special friends. Of particular interest is the strong relationship between the RCMP officer's family and a local native family. In fact, the strong sense of community in this culturally mixed, small town is one of the most positive aspects of this novel.

     Mystery at Shildii Rock is a story most suited to young boys and, although the main characters are on adventures trying to solve a mystery, there just isn't enough motivation behind their actions or tension in the plot to call this a "page turning mystery." Instead, there is an abundance of technical information about the dogsleds, the equipment, the route to the outpost, etc. Although this information (presumably accurate) is detailed and may be of interest to some, it tends to overwhelm the basic story. The vocabulary and simplistic plot make it accessible to young readers, but there may not be enough plot-driven drama to keep them interested. Although there is a threatening stranger who chases the boys with a rifle and a murdered body discovered, there are no graphic details or disturbing scenes, thankfully. However, there are also lost opportunities for more drama and emotional tension to keep the reader "on the edge of his seat."

     As characters in this novel, the young boys are firmly set in the '50s, and their dialogue and actions would, for the most part, be unfamiliar to today's young person. This style is quaint and delightful as a historical piece but may have been more attractive to modern readers if the story was set more currently.

     As a truly Canadian story of historic life in the outposts of Northwest Territories, Mystery at Shildii Rock is an interesting addition to Canadian children's literature. It's fairly distinctive in its locale and time period but would have been a better novel with less technical details and more plot tension to attribute the title of Mystery at Shildii Rock.

Recommended with reservations.

Diana Lynn Wilkes, who has taught grades K to 10, is an English major with a Bachelor of Education from Simon Fraser University, and holds a Master of Arts Degree in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia.

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

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