CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2016
Separated. (The Seven Prequels).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2016.
144 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1164-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1165-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1166-9 (epub).
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I hate it when mom calls me sensitive. I’m a guy. I’m almost a teenager. I can’t be a twelve-year-old boy and sensitive at the same time. That’s not possible, But as I stood in that crowd, not a single face familiar to me as far as I could see, my lifeline cut, fear making my knees weak, and my heart pounding like a basketball rattling inside a hoop, I knew she was right on the mark.
I was alone. I had never been so alone. And I had never been so frightened in all my life.
Readers who have already read Last Message and Double You, volumes in “Seven The Series” and “The Seven Sequels” respectively, will recognize Separated’s Adam Murphy as the American cousin who lives in Buffalo, NY. Since Separated is part of “The Seven Prequels” series, readers are “meeting” Adam before the action of the other two books occurs. Largely, the book is about establishing 12-year-old Adam as a character while loosely introducing readers to Adam’s grandfather, David McLean, and Adam’s five known Canadian cousins.
In Separated, Adam’s grandfather takes him on a brief holiday to Stockholm, Sweden, at the beginning of the school year. Adam is, amongst other things, an enormous worrier, and his pre-trip on-line research has convinced him that the publicly peaceful country of Sweden actually has a dark and sinister underside. Having “survived” the plane ride, Adam finds himself spending his mornings alone in a swanky hotel suite while his grandfather is off doing... well, that’s the problem, Adam doesn’t know what his grandfather is doing. The pair’s afternoons are occupied by their visiting “tourist” sites, the descriptions of which too often come across as mini social studies lessons. The highlight of the visit for Adam comes on their last day in Stockholm when Adam gets to attend a Swedish Elite League hockey game with his grandfather. It is at this point that the action, such as it is, begins. With just three minutes remaining in the game, Adam’s bladder demands immediate relief, but the game ends before Adam can exit the arena’s washroom, and he cannot find his grandfather in the stands or the crowd. Separated from his grandfather, Adam concludes that he has no choice but to make his way back to the Grand Hôtel on his own through the “dangerous” Stockholm streets. Along the way, Adam reencounters a strange girl, a quasi-street waif, Greta Longrinen, who dresses weirdly, rides a bicycle “with the handlebars made up to look like a horse’s head”, and has a monkey on her shoulder. Though she offers assistance, Adam rebuffs her, in part because he wants to prove to her and to himself that he is not “sensitive”.
In some ways, Separated reminded me of Christopher Pike’s “Goosebumps” series. Like Pike, Peacock frequently concludes chapters with cliffhanger-like endings. For example, the second chapter ends with:
Then the plane started its descent into Stockholm.
It looked all right down there...at first.
And the fifth concludes:
I left the hotel room that night as excited as I’d ever been. I had no idea that in a very short while it would be obvious to me that I was never coming back.
Chapter Twelve draws to a close with:
I lowered my head and looked up and down the alleyway. Now I was completely alone. But only for a moment. Someone was approaching, a dark figure, large and male, wearing a hood.
Such endings are intended to create emotional tension in readers, a tension that will propel them into the next chapter. Unfortunately, in Separated, as was frequently the case in the “Goosebumps” books, the following chapter’s contents simply don’t deliver on what was emotionally promised. Overall, the plot comes across as flat.
Another problem with Separated is the word “sensitive” which is repeatedly used to describe Adam. Even the aforementioned Greta Longrinen, who has just met Adam on the street, calls him sensitive. What is Peacock trying to tell readers about Adam? I don’t think “sensitive” is a word that is found in most middle schoolers’ lexicons, and I expect few will bother to look up the word’s meanings. At best, they may try to infer its meaning from the contexts in which the word is used, and the result could be that readers conclude that “sensitive” is just a synonym for “coward”.
Separated is not Peacock at his best, but the book does contribute something to the overall “Seven” series.
Recommended with Reservations.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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