CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 1. . . .September 4, 2015
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
257 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0665-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0666-5 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0667-2 (epub). A “Secrets” Boxed Set is available for $79.95. ISBN 978-1-4598-1082-2.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Mary Thomas.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
[The final conversation between Betty and the head of the orphanage]
"You have both an inquiring mind and a positive outlook. Your optimism has been a blessing to us all. Betty, you know that I care for all of my girls. You are all special to me; you are my children," she said. "You all have your gifts. In you, there is an extraordinary kindness. You always seem to see the positive in everything and everybody."
"I try to, ma'am."
"I don't think I've ever heard you say a bad thing about another person in the almost fourteen years since you first arrived. It was just before your fourth birthday."
"I know, although I don't remember it. I don't remember anything from before or even that much from my first year or so here," I said. "This is all I've known."
And now it was gone. Not that it was going to last that much longer anyway. For me and the other six oldest girls, the plan had been that we would remain at the orphanage until we turned eighteen and then we'd be sent out into the world as independent adults. I was about to graduate from high school, and when I turned eighteen, I had planned to leave and work for a year or possibly two and then get further training. I wanted to become a nurse.
Eric Walters has written 80-plus books, many of them award-winning, and all of them firmly focussed on engaging his targeted young-teen audience. This is great goal, and some of them are great books. Two of his latest project have enlisted six other good Canadian authors in a collaborative series of independent books based on characters related by some common factor. In one case (the “Seven Series”), seven grandsons were each given a task -- and the money and partial instructions on how to carry it out -- in their dead grandfather's will, and the books emerged from this scenario. In this series, an orphanage fire causes the seven oldest girls, all nearly eighteen, to graduate from its protective environment just a bit sooner than they had anticipated. It is a dramatic premise, and it will be interesting to see how the other authors cope with their characters' impressions of the event and their first tastes of independence. Walters' book I found a bit disappointing.
Betty is a truly `nice' girl in the best sense of the word. She is kind, friendly, helpful, naive -- innocent, in fact, as the title suggests – but she's not very interesting. She was happy in the orphanage, liked by the staff, did reasonably well at school, was friends with all the other girls, especially Toni, but, in her own eyes in particular, is not outstandingly creative or courageous. In her final interview with the head of her institution, the smoking remains of the only home Betty had ever known in the background, she is abruptly given the facts of her family history: born in Kingston, Ontario, to an unmarried mother murdered when Betty was four (presumably by her birth father since he was convicted and is now serving time in the Kingston pen for the crime). And a job has been arranged for her as a live-in maid for an ultra-rich, ultra-influential family -- also in Kingston! She is put on the train, full of trepidation, but, on arrival, she finds that this ultra-everything family is also ultra-nice, as are the rest of the staff in this almost-mansion. What's more, the house, family, and staff are the very ones for whom her mother worked and with whom she, herself, lived in a house in the garden up to a few weeks before the murder! Betty -- now transmogrified into her childhood Lizzie -- has suddenly become the owner of a past! However, the more she learns about her mother, her father, and her own early life, the more she wants answers to questions about what went wrong. In ceasing to be 'innocent' in the sense of naive herself, she begins to wonder whether her father is, in fact, 'innocent' in the sense of not guilty of the murder of her mother. But if he is innocent, then who is not?
Innocent should be a really gripping tale, and it is hard to say just why it's not. Basically I think that it is because I found Betty/Lizzie a rather boring person. Walters has written books with female protagonists that I have enjoyed enormously (Alexandria of Africa, for example) but his best books (We All Fall Down, which won the MYRCA award in 2008) have all had boys as their main character. There may be a lesson in this.
The coordination of seven books to make them consistent back and forth, although not sequential, is a major challenge and one that the grandfather/grandsons series rose to amazingly. I look forward to reading the others in this “Secrets” series. The mentions of Toni especially that are given in Innocent are tantalizing in the extreme. Walters is to be congratulated for engineering the series; that his book may not be the best of them is too bad, but life's like that and people will want to read it anyway, just to round out the picture.
Mary Thomas was born in the Kingston hospital that Lizzie hoped to train in and was brought up within 20 miles of the Kingston penitentiary. The local colour in this book is dead on.
Eric Walters. Narrated by Nina Richmond.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
6 hours, CD (5 discs) & mp3, $29.95 (CD), $19.95 (mp3).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1094-5 (CD), ISBN 978-1-4598-1095-2 (mp3).
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