________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 10 . . . . November 7, 2014


The Sinkhole. (The Seven Stair Crew).

Brad V. Cowan.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2014.
150 pp., trade pbk., hc. & ebook, $12.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.), $9.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0723-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0724-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0725-1 (ebook).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Jocelyn Reekie.

** /4


"Cale slammed the storm door and kicked his shoes off in a huff. Plunking his bag down, he made his way into the kitchen where his mom was up to her elbows in something she was wrestling with in the skink.

“There he is!” she said in a singsong voice, lifting one of her plaster-covered hands out of the sink and wiping her brow. “How was the last day of grade seven?”
“Fine. It was cool, I guess. Nothing special. Did anything come for me today? In the mail?”

“You know, Mom, some kids get gifts when they finish a school year. Did you know that?”

“What do I always say?”

“You’ll only get something if you don’t pass!” they said together slowly, shaking their fists in mock violence.

“How’s this for a gift?” she said, drying her hands on her apron and grabbing something from the shelf above the stove.

She plunked a plump manila envelope on the counter in front of him. “It’s post marked ‘San Diego.’ I wonder who that could be from.”

Cale grinned as he tore the envelope open.

Cale, This is your captain speaking…joke. This is your dad, Lance. I’m looking out the window of my place at the beach, the waves, and Castro Point, one of the best surf spots in Sand Diego … Wish you were here, buddy.


So there you are. Done school for the year, and here comes the summer. If Drayton’s still anything like it used to be, that place clears out as soon school’s over. …If it weren’t for the vert ramp we built behind the rec centre, those summers would have been bo-ring.

The other thing that made the summers bearable, from a skateboard point of view, was … the Empire.

Cale flipped over the page quickly, where the letter continued.

The Empire wasn’t (isn’t) an arcade or record store or skate shop … It was a series of three super-sweet skate spots hidden in and around the town that only a very select few knew about. These locations were so top secret that only my crew knew of their existence. We were the only ones to “skate the Empire.” As far as I know, we still are. I haven’t told another soul about any of this. Until now. "



Thus author Brad Cowan launches Cale Finch into a summer of trying to locate three secret, super-sweet, skating spots that used to exist somewhere around the small town of Drayton.

True to what Cale’s absent father says, a few days after school is out, Drayton empties out. Among the ‘exitees’ are two members of the Seven Stair Crew who are off to an elite, summer skateboard camp, and Angie, the girl-interest in Cale’s life, who goes off to spend the summer at her cottage.

     Enter Toby, a wannabe member of Cale’s skateboard crew. Toby loves to skate and tries hard, but his skill is not anything like up to the level necessary to ollie the seven stairs of the plaza, the feat that is required to become a member of the crew. Still, he latches onto Cale, JT and Josh—the other two members of the crew who, like Cale, are stuck in Drayton for the summer—with hope he’ll make the grade soon. Cale remembers what it was like when he was yearning to join the crew but wasn’t skilled enough to accomplish the stairs, and he is okay with that. JT and Josh aren’t. That leads to conflict among the boys and to Cale’s finding new ways to deal with them.

     This third and final book in Cowan’s “Seven Stair Crew” trilogy skips rapidly from quest to quest as Cale and his buddies set out to solve the clues Cale’s father sends him and find the skating havens his father once exulted in conquering. Each location is more difficult to find than the last; each venue is more dangerous than the one before it. As Cale hunts down the places, he also finds people who knew his father, and he learns some things about the man who has been absent all Cale’s life but who is now trying to make up for lost time between them. The vehicle of the plot is the hunt; the story is Cale’s growth.

     In chapter one, Cale is sitting in the school room, waiting for the final bell to ring and release him for the summer. While he waits, he answers a question his teacher asks by telling her all the ‘illegal’ moves he intends to make on his skateboard in the school halls as soon as he’s released, and then goes on to tell her the story of his father. For me, this scene immediately challenged credibility. Would any 13-year-old blurt ‘illegal’ actions he intends to commit on school property and/or relate such personal details as Cale does about his father to a teacher in front of a classroom full of his peers? Later, his skateboarding in the halls heightens the stereotype of skateboarders being irresponsible, disrespectful people who are willing to break rules just to satisfy a whim. All of the important details contained in this chapter are, I think, better related throughout the text as the story unfolds.

     In chapter two, the prospect of mystery pulls readers in, and, as the story unfolds, the hunt, the actions of the boys, and the details of what Cale learns about his father keep readers turning the pages. Eventually though, it turns into a car-chase sort of tale with very little development of anything other than the quest for location, some details about Cale’s father, and a predictable ‘weak-link turns hero’ subplot to round things out, but this format may be what keeps reluctant readers engaged. On the whole, the book reads more like a half-hour episode in a television series than a novel.

     The first subplot—bullying—is minimally developed, with a transformation on Cale’s part solving it easily. As the trilogy progressed, I expected much more development of the ‘crew’ as a whole and Cale in particular, but I was disappointed in this. Except for the first book in the series, none of the other boys’ lives are explored in any depth. In this book, I found it too convenient that two members of the crew, plus the ‘girl-interest’, were removed from the equation. Angie has never really been present in any of the three books, and though her presence hints at Cale’s developing sexuality, that aspect of his life is never explored or developed in any way. And so it becomes a convenient sidebar that bows to convention with no real meaning.

     This book does not have the depth of book two, Skinner’s Banks. That said, reluctant readers will find the plot in The Sinkhole very easy to follow, Cale does develop minimally, and his father does become an entity who might have some effect on Cale’s future, though he does not quite develop into a full-fledged person.


Jocelyn Reekie is a writer, editor and publisher in Campbell River, BC.

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

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