CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 22. . . .February 12, 2016
Two years have passed since Hannah was transported back in time via a magical spindle whorl. She still remembers her experiences in the Cowichan village of Tl’ulpalus and hopes that her friend Yisella went on to live a happy life. But now that she is a teenager, Hannah has to grow up and learn to deal with mean girls and her changing relationship with her best friend Max who is possibly becoming her first boyfriend. It's summer vacation in Cowichan Bay, though, and Hannah is looking forward to fun in the sun and working at an art studio until some dodgy characters show up in town. She isn't sure how the salvage of an old boat, a grow-op and some grisly animal cadavers are related, but the connection is a mystery she plans to solve. Enter Isabelle Tate, a little older and wilder, sent to live with her aunt in the village to escape bad influences at home. Izzy thinks she and her friends are pretty cool and that the First Nations stories and traditional crafts embraced by her mom and aunt are lame and embarrassing. One of these family legends is the tale of a red-headed girl who travelled back in time with a magical raven and befriended their ancestor. Obviously Izzy thinks that is ridiculous. The only thing Izzy likes about her aunt's place is the eagle family who live in a tree there, and when she realizes they are in danger, she becomes their protector and is willing to accept help from Hannah and Max. Once they become friends, the three save the eagles and bring down a local crime ring.
Hannah and the Salish Sea is a little slow to start, and it is difficult to get used to the alternating narrators, especially for the first few chapters where the two girls are unconnected. It was a risky decision to write a sequel which adds an extra narrator, but, in this case, it really opens up the scope. Initially I had some reservations about Izzy's voice (as the badass teen it rang false) and character (the typical alienated angry half-First Nations girl). However, the development of the friendship between Hannah and Izzy is the strongest element of this novel, and it is a real pleasure to see them forge a bond. It should have occurred to me that Izzy was one of Yisella's descendents earlier in the story, but I love that this plot twist caught me by surprise. This connection between the girls is genuinely supernatural, and my favourite scene in the book is when Hannah finally tells Izzy that the stories are true and that she did know her family over a hundred years in the past. Izzy, the talented misunderstood artist, and Hannah, the tomboy touched by magic, make an unlikely team of devoted friends.
The mystic angle anchors the reader to the first book in the series, Hannah and the Spindle Whorl. Even though there is no real time travel here, the magic in this story is almost better than the more direct manifestations of the first book. Izzy does have a paranormal experience when visiting a museum in Victoria where she enters the First People of Canada exhibit and speaks to a woman in traditional garb who gives her some words of wisdom. She later discovers that the exhibit is closed, that no one works there, and that the person she spoke to was her own ancestor. This scene could have been clumsy, but it feels authentic and really works as a catalyst of change for Izzy. I wondered if the absence of time travel in this book was a signal of Hannah’s getting older and leaving childish things like magic behind. I don't think it is meant to be symbolic though as the third book in the series will include more magical features.
While the animal poaching aspects of the story are disturbing, it is inspiring to have them counterbalanced by the three main characters, kids who all love and respect animals. Hannah has her special bond with Jack, and Izzy is something of an expert on birds and even knows how to help the eagle Two-Step (a single parent) feed its young until they are old enough to fly. Shaw writes very well about the natural world, making the animals into real individuals but not trying to anthropomorphize more than is appropriate for the characters. Shaw also brings the natural landscape vividly to life, including the woods where Hannah and Max bike and explore and the sea where they paddle and watch for clues. The setting is truly important, and it is also refreshing to have teen characters who enjoy small town life and appreciate the world around them.
The best parts of the storytelling are the active scenes when the kids are solving the mystery. They go on late-night kayak paddling stakeouts and ride their bikes in the forest to do recon. They work well as a team, and they are up against some pretty dark stuff. In fact, the various villains of this book are truly evil, perhaps too much so. There are also quite a few of them, and it’s a little hard to keep them straight. When the story veers into overheard conversations or reported situations, it gets weaker, and there are a definitely a few subplots which could probably have been slimmed down or removed.
Overall, the writing in Hannah and the Salish Sea is lively, and the setting is well-realized. All the main characters are appealing people who develop and grow and whose passions are infectious. The local characters of the marina where Hannah lives with her father on a houseboat are believable salty dogs. This is a fun story with thoughtful and educational elements which are subtly woven into the narrative.
Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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.