CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 5. . . .October 7, 2016
Full Moon Lagoon.
Monica Nawrocki. Illustrated by Lisa Gibbons.
Victoria, BC: Friesen Press, 2015.
185 pp., trade pbk., hc. & eBook, $12.99 (pbk.), $22.99 (hc.), $6.99 (eBook).
ISBN 978-1-4602-7714-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4602-7713-3 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4602-7715-7 (eBook).
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Ruth Latta.
[A woman] sat alone under a great fir tree, and as the tide reached its peak, three heads appeared out of nowhere and floated into the lagoon. Before the woman stood three messengers who told her that they had a message for one special family. The messengers visited the family by the lake to tell them that danger lay ahead. Already, trouble had visited; the family boat sat locked to the dock. In the city, the government had shut down the newspapers and schools of the people, and worst of all, the rumoured evacuation was coming, the messengers said.
The family accepted this news sadly and made preparations to leave their beloved home. They climbed into their boat and sailed away to safety, just before a great storm of sadness and despair struck the coast with a force that would be felt for a hundred years. This is the story of the lagoon messengers and how they saved the Tagawas."
"I'm sorry I ever argued with you about everybody's Different being the same. Really sorry. I get it now."
"We'll see," she said softly..."...If you actually make an effort to get along with your stepdad, I'll know you get it.... You won't even try to get along with him because you're uncomfortable with his Different. That's how it starts. You put enough of those things together, and then when scary stuff happens - like a war, it turns into fear and then into hatred and before you know it, you've got nice people like the Tagawas in prison camps."
"Not the same thing, Cat," I muttered...
Full Moon Lagoon is a time-travel novel set on Cortes Island off the coast of British Columbia. The 12-year-old co-protagonists are Maddy, the first person narrator; her best friend, Cat, and Cat's twin brother, Duncan, whom the girls have nicknamed "Draggin". Maddy lives on Cortes Island year round, while the twins, from Vancouver, spend the summers there. Maggie has red hair like her grandmother's was, while the twins have dark hair like their mother, who is of Chinese ancestry.
The twins' parents, believing there is safety in numbers, want Duncan and Cat to stick together, but the girls, who are best friends, prefer to be on their own, away from Draggin and the endless fund of "little known facts" that he keeps telling them. They have nicknamed him "Draggin", because he's always "draggin'" along with them. "Draggin" spells his nickname "Dragon" and is proud of it, unaware of the girls' joke. Draggin is hard of hearing, wears hearing aids, and uses sign language, which the girls have picked up.
It is August 2015, and the girls want to cram as many experiences as possible into what's left of the summer holidays. One such experience is to dive into the lagoon. A sand spit separates the lagoon from Georgia Strait, and the mouth of the lagoon is where the sea "funnels through the gap between the sand spit and the far shore... The current below the surface is so strong that when you dive you pop back up twenty feet away."
The children steal away one night just before the full moon. They swim to the rock in the middle of the mouth, then dive. When they come up on shore, they look around for their clothes, towels, and Draggin's hearing aids tucked inside a sneaker. Their belongings are gone. They feel very cold, cannot see any lights from nearby summer homes and can see only four fishing boats tied up at the dock where there ought to be a dozen craft of various kinds. Noticing an old woman leaning against a tree, they wonder if she has taken their belongings. When they approach her, she asks why they are swimming in December.
It is Draggin who figures out that they have time-travelled. He has been reading about a First Nations legend concerning the lagoon, which is explained in greater detail by the old woman, Malila. She comes to the children's aid, offering them a blanket and takes them back to her cabin to eat and spend the night. Though thankful, they are shocked when she tells them it's 1941.
Malila tells them the story of "The Messenger", who came from the Creator, rising out of the lagoon long ago to tell the people the best ways of obtaining food. Tradition has it that First Nations people would gather at high tide to see if the full moon would bring another messenger.
The following morning, the children dive again, hoping to return to 2015, but they find themselves still in 1941. Malila says that the "portal" or "gate" through which they have time-travelled probably won't open for them until they figure out what message they have brought. While discussing the big issues of the twenty-first century, they notice three men, including one in uniform, looking at a fishing boat. Draggin, who lip-reads, perceives that they're saying "Jap boat."
Draggin remembers learning about the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, though the girls seem vague about it. Malila has heard about the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, which happened earlier in the month on December 7, 1941. She and the children decide to warn the Tagawas, the Japanese-Canadian family who own the boat, about the property confiscations and internment that lie ahead. At the last minute, however, Malila cannot accompany them to the Tagawas.
More adventures follow as the young people travel through the woods to warn the Tagawas. In the course of this journey, they meet a dangerous man, and two boys their own age who are interested in them and supportive of their mission. Readers will enjoy the passages in which people living in 1941 are puzzled by the technologies of 2015. All of the children behave courageously, and the novel ends on a positive note.
The author, who lives on Cortes Island, provides a often-lyrical description of this setting. The fast pace, and the resourcefulness of the young characters will capture and hold readers' attention. The cover illustration, by artist Lisa Gibbons, is magical and beautiful.
Some aspects of the plot, however, seem weak, and not because of the supernatural element. When the three co-protagonists surface in 1941, Malila and the Tagawa family have already heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While they may not be able to foretell the magnitude of the crime against Japanese Canadians, it would not take much imagination to anticipate an unpleasant future. Would they really need messengers from the twenty-first century to tell them that they'll be in for a bad time unless they escape?
When the protagonists reach the Tagawa family, there is some question as to whether Mr. Tagawa would heed their warning. Their son, who is in the same age range as Maddy and her friends, decides to convey their message from beyond through traditional Japanese shadow-puppetry, saying: "We need to make Father feel the magic he believes in, deep in his heart." While shadow-puppetry is an interesting cultural phenomenon, it might have been more respectful of Mr. Tagawa to appeal to his rational mind.
Sign language, which the girls know on account of Draggin, is important in the novel. By the end, readers see that he is not a "drag". One of the messages in Full Moon Lagoon is the need to value those who are "differently abled", a worthy principle to instil in young people. To show Draggin's worth, however, the author presents the boy, the main male character, as more knowledgeable than the girls.
To further her message that "Differents" must be valued, the author establishes at the beginning a conflict between Maddy and her stepfather, who is in a wheelchair. (See quote at the beginning of this review.) Maddy says, "He's in everyone's way all the time and he couldn't care less!" and "he looks at me like I'm something nasty he found in the back of the fridge."
Readers are expected to take Cat's word for it that Maddy dislikes her stepdad because he is "different"; that is, in a wheelchair. Perceptive young readers, particularly those living with step-parents, will realize that Maddy may resent him for other reasons. Conflict with step-parents is not unusual, and it's a big topic that could be explored successfully in another novel. We are given no information about how long Maddy's stepfather has been part of the family, for instance, or any other pertinent backstory. To this reader, Cat's criticism of Maddy seems unfair. By bringing in this subplot, the author seems to be straining to make a point about acceptance.
Time-travel, outdoor life on a west coast island, a First Nations legend, life on Cortes in 1941, Japanese-Canadian wartime internment, step-parent/stepchild conflict, the value of those who are "Differents", and an encounter with an ancestor - all come into Full Moon Lagoon. Is the novel a rich, multi-faceted work, or an overloaded story with a heavy-handed message? Readers will decide.
Ruth Latta, of Ottawa, ON, is the author of two young adult novels, with a third shortly to be published. See http://ruthlattabooks.blogspot.com
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