________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 5. . . .October 2, 2015


Attack of the Toga Gang.

George Bowering.
Toronto, ON: DCB/Dancing Cat Books, 2015.
170 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-4-77086-442-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-4-77086-443-6 (epub).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Chris Laurie.

* /4



Now I have to tell you something about the group dynamic of our group, not counting Norm Nakamura-McNamara, who was a new guy. We original four were in the same playroom at Sobbing Puppy Kindergarten. My three pals have the notion that I am a bit of a flake, a goof, maybe, definitely what my mother calls a dingbat. I don’t know what a dingbat is, but I always think of a bat in a belfry who can’t get to his hanging place without bouncing off the bell. Well, according to them I am a little slow in everything but math, so I make up for it by being the class clown. I play along with the idea. I wear funny hats and I eat and drink weird concoctions, and I get famous people’s names wrong. I pretend I don’t understand what people are saying so I can make fun of them whether they know about it or not.

In reality I know just about everything, I have a hunch that Neville has a hunch about the game I am playing, but he’s never going to get a confirmation from me. He’s never going to find out that I know the population of Tirana, Albania, for example, or that I can tell you who Persephone was. Of course I can also tell you that One-Shot Bodine was the director of the greatest movies the Bowery Boys ever made. If you don’t know who the Bowery Boys were, do yourself a favour and look at some of their old movies. That way you will get as smart as I am, and you will see where Harry whashisname the boy magician got most of his ideas. All knowledge is knowledge, that’s what I say. But I’m in no great hurry to let the world, much less my friends, know that I am a genius.


The protagonist of George Bowering’s latest novel is wise-cracking 13-year-old Harry Fieldstone. Harry has found a comfortable role as class clown with fellow middle schoolers and Poet’s Club members Neville, Viv, Feet and Norm. Harry is also an amateur archaeologist, spending his off-hours digging for treasures in neighbourhood construction sites. After months of digging at his current favourite spot, Harry shovels up a gold ring with the letters SPQR engraved on it. Curious for some insight into the provenance of the ring, Harry refers to his go-to expert on most things, Professor Purzlebaum.

     The eccentric professor identifies it as the Kauderwelsch ring, an ancient artefact imbued with the ability to empower its wearer with a variety of special powers, including invisibility, telekinesis, the ability to mind-read, and levitation. And that a group called the Toga Gang will stop at nothing to obtain the ring for evil purposes.

     This novel has great potential in both plot and character, but it struggles in two areas: creating multidimensional characters with whom the reader will identify, and in creating dialogue that rings true to the characters. Harry is a 13-year-old boy, but he continuously uses turns of phrase, and cultural and historical references from earlier eras that do not ring true to a teenager. This prevents the reader from being able to identify with him. His classmates and friends from the Poet’s Club aren’t fleshed out much beyond mere clichés: Neville the ‘brain’, Viv the brassy red-head, Feet the vegetarian hippy, and new-guy Norm. The narrative tension deriving from the Toga Gang’s efforts to gain possession of the ring is minimal, and readers are never given a clear backstory on who the gang is, where they are from, why they want the ring, or what they intend to do with it. The result is an ending that lacks climactic effect.

     George Bowering, a poet, writer, biographer, and historian, has written over ninety works and was the first Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada.

Not Recommended.

Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.

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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