________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 30. . . .April 4, 2014


Outside In.

Sarah Ellis.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2014.
206 pp., hc. & ePub, $16.95 (hc.), $14.95 (ePub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-367-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-369-8 (ePub).

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

***1/2 /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Before Clive. A memory came sneaking back. They were living in a house with other people. Was that the year of Geoff? Was that the house where the mean boy cut off one of Kapok’s ears? Or was that another house? Shakti was sitting on a blue couch, the one that was good for jumping on. She was rocking and crying, crying with gulping. Flowers always made Shakti happy. There were flowers next door. Lynn went to pick them but just when she had a big bunch, the next-door man came into his yard and yelled at her. He had an ogre voice. Then Shakti came out and yelled at the man and there was too much scary yelling. What was the end of that story?

And then Clive came. All of Shakti’s other boyfriends, you couldn’t let yourself like them too much because they always left. Except for Clive. Except for maybe now.


Lynn, 13, has had it with her mother, Shakti. But, unlike the more typical troubled mother-daughter relationships, Lynn is frustrated with her mother’s complete and utter lack of responsibility. Shakti’s bohemian lifestyle and lackadaisical attitude seem to have created nothing but trouble for them. Until Clive had entered their lives, Lynn’s memories of her childhood were of constantly moving and never feeling like she had a safe and stable home. But things changd when they moved in with Clive five years earlier. Shakti, herself, seemed to have changed, and Lynn had dared to hope that they would now have a more normal life. And they had, until Shakti’s affair with Brandon sent Clive away, maybe for good. And, in typical Shakti fashion, she managed to forget to mail Lynn’s passport application, meaning that Lynn is also now unable to go on the school trip that she and her friends had been looking forward to for so long. All in all, a tumultuous time in her life that leaves her feeling more annoyed than ever with Shakti.

     But while her best friends are away on this school trip, Lynn makes a new friend. From the moment she meets Blossom, Lynn knows that this unusual girl is unlike anyone else she has ever met. Blossom is an Underlander. She and her “family” live in an abandoned construction storage site and live off things that they find, things that have been discarded by Citizens, like Lynn. Fossick, the father-figure in their family, found Blossom and the two boys who have grown up alongside her as her brothers when they were infants, and the four of them have lived together ever since. As Lynn gets to know them, she comes to appreciate their unique world view and way of life. She also knows that not everyone would be so understanding and/or tolerant and, therefore, it is imperative that she keeps their existence a secret. But soon this creates problems for her, with her friends and with her mother. Finally, she is forced to tell her mother the truth about where she has been spending all of her time. Then Shakti carelessly betrays this very important secret. Can Lynn ever forgive this terrible betrayal? And will she ever see Blossom again to seek her forgiveness and to hopefully save their special friendship?

     In her latest book, award-winning author Sarah Ellis offers young readers an intriguing look at family, friendship and alternative views on what is needed to live and be happy. When Lynn first discovers how Blossom and the boys that she knows as her brothers came to live with Fossick, the fact that they were essentially discarded and “found” by him, she is horrified. But she soon comes to see that the family that they have created is happier and healthier than many of the Citizen families that she knows, including her own. Nevertheless, despite their seemingly idyllic life hidden from the rest of the world, they still wrestle with some of the same issues that many families face. When Blossom expresses her anguish over her older brother Tron’s behaviour and the fact that he seems to be drifting away from their family unit, Lynn points out to her that it is a normal and natural part of growing up that a child will eventually leave home to make their own way in the world. As their friendship develops, both girls are able to learn from each other. Lynn is struck by the Underlanders’ simple lifestyle and their contentment despite (or perhaps because of) their lack of attachment to money and material goods. Young readers will also be challenged to think about the things that we value in our lives as well as the things that we take for granted.

     But Blossom isn’t Lynn’s only friend in this book, and her two best friends, Kas and Celia, are strong secondary characters who support her through difficult times and come to her aid even after they have been hurt by the fact that she has been lying to them and keeping secrets from them. While friendship and trust are major motifs in this book, it is also a thoughtful exploration of family and forgiveness: what it means to be a family, the many different forms that families take and how hard it is to forgive as well as to be forgiven. Readers will be relieved to see signs of genuine growth and change in Shakti by the story’s end but may also regret that Clive was not more present in the story. They may also be left wondering about the outcome of that particular situation in Lynn and Shakti’s lives: will Clive come back? Will they be forced to move out of his house and start all over again? Given the ways in which both mother and daughter have grown, and the realizations that they have come to, readers can easily believe that they will be able to handle whatever their futures hold for them. This is a thought-provoking tale that will hopefully inspire as well as delight its readers.

Highly Recommended

Lisa is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS.

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

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