CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007
Best friends Owen and Andrew know how to take advantage of a situation. Caught up in the chaos and confusion of the Red River Flood of 1997, the pair of teens slip away from the group home where they had been residing in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and head for the Canadian border.
They rationalize that, if they follow the flood, they are less likely to get caught since people will be largely preoccupied with the more immediate, and pressing, crisis that it represents. And they are, for the most part, correct in that assumption. With only a duffel bag full of supplies, the boys manage to cross the border into Canada and begin their event-filled odyssey, an adventure made all the more interesting by virtue of the fact that Owen is wheelchair-bound and has no legs.
In the first town they come to, they break into an empty house and try to organize themselves. When a couple of soldiers take them in, they are too busy dealing with the forced evacuation to spend a lot of time sorting the boys out. Instead, the pair are put on a bus bound for Winnipeg. It’s not long, however, before the two happy wanderers become fed up with the bus and strike out on their own once again. At a diner in Ste. Agathe, they meet Apple, a young woman who takes them home with her. There, the two do everything they can to help Apple’s family build a strong enough barricade to hold the angry flood waters back. Yet in spite of their efforts, it’s a only a matter of time before the dike bursts and the boys, along with the Madison family, are on the move again. This time they do wind up in Winnipeg where a further series of mishaps and adventures await them.
From the start, Owen and Andrew are an entertaining duo, and readers will enjoy following their progress. They are typical teen boys whose friendship is realistically portrayed and rendered all the more poignant given Andrew’s obvious protectiveness towards Owen. But their banter and rough-housing keeps the relationship believable and the story relatively light and fun, steering clear of sentimentality or drama. Curiously, this book presents a snapshot of about one week in the lives of these boys, with virtually no information whatsoever about anything that had gone on before nor any sense of what would happen after (the story ends with the two of them on a bus bound for Calgary headed presumably towards new mishaps). For some readers, this will add to the sense of adventure since we are unencumbered with issues from before or those yet to come. This reader, however, found herself wondering about their backgrounds: how did each of them arrive at the group home from which they’ve fled; is that where they met, and what circumstances brought them together and cemented their friendship; what ultimately made them decide to strike out on their own; and how did Owen lose his legs?? The fact that there is virtually no sense of what they are running away from eliminates any real sense of urgency and allows the plot to meander. However, it may also prevent readers from developing any sense of connectedness with the characters.
Readers do, on the other hand, acquire a good deal of information about the flood itself and the measures that were taken to cope with the pending disaster and to try to minimize its impact. At times, it may actually be too much information to hold the interest of readers who are more apt to want to just follow Owen and Andrew’s wanderings. Yet for others, this will provide an eye-opening account of an event that they know little about, putting a human face on a natural disaster that dramatically affected the lives of a large number of people. While Sandbag Shuffle is a fun and uncomplicated story, readers will be left idly wondering how it all worked out for the boys in the end while perhaps also developing an appreciation for what it was like to have lived in the path of this natural disaster.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.