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


Sandbag Shuffle.

Kevin Marc Fournier.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2007.
206 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-22-5.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

**½ /4


By the time the boys actually reached the village that afternoon, they had had their fill of walking.  Andrew's legs were killing him; so were Owen's arms. "We could have been in that semi right now," Andrew was complaining: "We'd probably be in Winnipeg already. I never rode in a semi before."

Owen was going to say, "Freedom and independence aren't for sissies," but then he thought better of it. It's the sort of thing that sounds really good in the moment, but when you're in the mood to do a little bitching and whining of your own, you get it thrown back in your face.

The village was half-empty; it would have to be completely empty, except for emergency workers, by Friday. The handful of people you did see wore harassed and stubborn expressions.

Owen was very impressed with the church, and tried to talk Andrew into going inside and looking around.

"Why?" said Andrew. "It's a little late to try praying, isn't it?"

"I just want to check it out. You know, if we can't find a ride to Winnipeg today, this might be a good place to spend the night."

"In a church?" Andrew found the idea unnerving. It was creepy somehow, though he couldn't explain why and didn't say that to Owen. But he did refuse to go in.

"Right now," he said, "I'm going to find somewhere I can sit down and have a hot chocolate or something. If you want to go wheel yourself around the church instead, go right ahead, I'll catch you later."

And he turned his back and walked up Main Street in search of a coffee shop or some kind of restaurant.

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.

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

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