CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2016
Barracuda. (The Seven Prequels).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2016.
174 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1152-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1153-9 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1154-6 (epub).
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Crystal Sutherland.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“You don’t talk much about your stepfather,” he said.
“Not much to say,” Webb said. “And whatever there is, it’s kind of like the Kristie thing. I want to keep it to myself.”
“Fair enough,” David said. “So I’ll say what I need to say, and you don’t have to answer. My sense is that things could be better at home for you than they are. I’m here for you if you want to talk. And in the meantime, there’s something on that iPod for you to watch. Something your father gave to me a few months before he died. He told me to only let you see it if I felt you needed to see it. He didn’t want to get in the way of you and your relationship with a new father.”
“This is from my dad? A video?”
“Your dad,” David said. “When you watch it, you’ll understand.”
David Maclean promised his grandson Jim Webb a trip for his thirteenth birthday, and Webb can’t wait to get to the Florida Keys. They’ll be staying at a resort owned by David’s friend, Jonathan Greene, with access to anything they need. Webb didn’t think it could get better – then he saw the red convertible waiting for them. The stories David told made Jonathan sound like a great guy, and he was totally living up to the legend. This could be the best vacation ever, but David reveals two last and very important details: Jonathan is dying, and he needs their help. Webb storms out at the news, needing time to clear his head, and he marches straight into another adventure involving music, a girl, and her boyfriend. Webb is immediately drawn to Kristie and, being a skilled guitar player, grabs the nearest guitar and joins her onstage practice session singing Heart’s hit “Barracuda”. Webb feels a real connection until Sylas, Kristie’s boyfriend, shows up and demands his guitar back. Webb is a little disappointed, but he looks forward to playing and hanging out with Kristie again whether Sylas likes it or not.
Meeting Kristie made up for any disappointment Webb had felt about his vacation not being solely for pleasure. Returning to the cabin, he’s ready to tackle the reason he and David found themselves in Florida: to help Jonathan achieve what he needs before he dies. Visiting Jonathan gives them their mission, but it brings up a lot of questions, too: someone is trying to take everything Johnathan has from him before he dies, but even Johnathan isn’t sure who’s involved; David and Webb need to “find the diamonds before the others do”. It’s hard to tell if these are the ramblings of a man near death, or if it’s real. It all sounds too serious for David and Webb to dismiss as a fantasy.
Things only get stranger as David and Webb begin their mission. The man put in charge of Jonathan’s resort, a close friend of the dying man, has a full schedule planned for the two, and he is more than offended when Webb wants to make his own adventure and not let someone else make decisions for him. His suspicious behaviour gets David and Webb thinking, and individual strange happenings begin to look too coincidental to be unconnected. As they prepare to confront those closest to Jonathan to find out more, watching for signs of their involvement, another unrelated event feels strangely connected: Webb can’t help thinking about how his father, who died when Webb was a child, felt as he neared death, and also about his step-father, someone he should be able to trust, but who is a very different man in private than he is in public.
David reveals that the choice of trip was no coincidence: while he and Webb knew they would be travelling together, David thought that, in addition to helping his friend, the trip might also help Webb deal with the loss of his father when he was a child, something David wasn’t sure Webb was ready to face. Giving Webb a video recording of his father before he died to watch when he was ready helps Webb finally let his feelings about his father’s death out and motivates him to do everything he can to put Jonathan at ease and guarantee the diamonds are donated to Operation Smile, as per Jonathan’s wishes, before time runs out. The video also provides a clue as to how their conversations with Jonathan in his hospital room seem to be known to others: technology can be used for good and evil, and the nanny cam they find in Jonathan’s hospital room is not for keeping an eye on his health, but instead it’s for listening in on conversation that may help the unknown individuals find the diamonds before Webb and David. The culprits have no idea what they’re in for, but they quickly learn to never underestimate a 13-year-old in a kayak, a senior, and an little technology.
Sigmund Brouwer has a talent for taking readers on intense adventures, and, in Barracuda, he skillfully weaves two together: Johnathan’s past and the impact it has on him to the very end of his life; and Webb’s coming to terms with his father’s death years before, and learning he can depend on himself and others more than he would have ever thought.
While Jonathan’s big mystery being the focus of Barracuda, it’s the smaller mysteries that come to light that really make the book great. It’s clear David and Webb have a special bond as grandfather and grandson, but it’s pieces like the conversation David has with Webb about why he is “Grandad” to his other grandsons and “David” to Webb that will make readers really connect with the characters. David asks Webb if he has ever thought about it and reveals that he thought it would be easier for Webb because he’s an introvert. David goes on to describe himself as an extrovert or ‘people person’ who loves interacting with others, and how he thinks Webb is an introvert, someone who may find interacting with others tiring or too personal. Webb agrees with David’s points and feels he knows himself a little better, and readers will find themselves identifying with one of these two very different personalities to differing degrees. It’s the strengths of both personality types, Webb’s willingness to push his comfort levels and David’s willingness to let Webb work things out on his own, that solved Jonathan’s mystery and unraveled the plan to rob Jonathan of everything he had. The only piece missing from the book was what Webb did when he returned home and had to face his stepfather.
Crystal Sutherland is a MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate living in Halifax, NS.
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