________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 17. . . .January 9, 2015



Helaine Becker. Illustrated by Alexander Griggs-Burr.
Toronto, ON: Dancing Cat Books, 2014.
250 pp., trade pbk., epub & mobi, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77086-391-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77086-392-7 (epub), ISBN 978-1-77086-393-4 (mobi).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Karen Boyd.

*** /4



My father was doing magic. Illegal magic.

Over the next few nights, peeping through that same door, I observed my father as I’d never seen him before.

With his hair streaming out behind him, as if blown by an unseen wind.

With a mist of holy, mysterious magic letters spilling from his mouth.

I hear him uttering incantations so deep and dark it was as if they emerged from an underground cave. “Oh-ah-ee-ah!” The vowels rebounded and reverberated. “Ha-lai-lah ha zeh!” the syllables creaked and groaned.

I saw him with his robe glowing and his eyes flaring yellow. And with candles cavorting in a semicircle above his head, their flames casting eerie shadows on the walls, on his face.

When morning came, he kept falling asleep over his oatmeal.

I didn’t know what to make of this new development. Unable to keep it to myself any longer, I confided in Beano. “Whoa...” he breathed. “What do you think he’s up to? If he gets caught...” I don’t know, Beans, but whatever he’s doing, it’s crazy. And I’m afraid it’s going to kill him.”


Dany, 15, is the son of a powerful, magical elder of the Stoons. However, this is not the prestigious position that one may think. The Stoons are an oppressed people living in the shadow of Gottika and Count Pol, its corrupt leader. The Stoons have had many of their rights taken away. They live with a strict curfew, an identifying hat, no ability to own land or weapons, and, most recently, no right to practice magic. Dany’s mother suffers from “the staring sickness”, making her incommunicative, and Dany’s father just keeps secrets from him. When young Gottika children begin to go missing and turn up murdered, the Stoons are blamed, and things get even worse. Dany becomes privy to many secrets when his father creates a Gol from Clay to protect his people, but it is Dany who must ultimately save the Stoons.

internal art     Gottika certainly has something for everyone. It is a futuristic fantasy, with some elements of historical allegory. Becker draws heavily on Jewish legend of the golem, a human-like creature brought to life from clay to protect the Jewish people from anti-Semitic attacks. Parts of Gottika are presented as graphic novel, with powerful images by Alexander Griggs-Burr. Those sections are in stark contrast to the descriptive text by Becker and work very effectively. Equally as complex is the plot. There are multiple plot lines that deal with teenage angst, oppression, mystery, sexual abuse, and family secrets. The questions that are raised throughout the book are resolved at different levels of satisfaction. I am still not completely clear about the one-child rule or the role of magic for the Stoon people. In its attempt to have something for everyone, Gottika may have taken on too much for this length of novel.

     The characters were far more compelling than the story. Dany’s struggle to understand and live with the powerlessness of his community is developed throughout the book. In one scene, Dany and his father are humiliated by Count Pol’s soldiers. Dany both hopes and fears that his father will come to his defence, and he is destroyed when he realizes that his father can’t protect him. One of the most endearing characters is Moishe, the gol. Created from clay, he cannot speak, but both Becker and Griggs-Burr give him such humanity that Dany’s final decision for his sib is heartbreaking. Other characters, like Dany’s friend Beano and his cousin Dalil, are equally as interesting, but they don’t get enough of the book to flesh out their storylines.

     Gottika is a compelling read. I wondered as I read it how much of my previous experience with the underlying issues in the text allowed me to engage as I did. Even with that experience, I feel like I missed things. I hope the style of the text, the strong characters, and the writing style will keep young readers engaged.


Dr. Karen Boyd is the English Language Arts and Literacy consultant with Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning.

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

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.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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