CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 9. . . .November 4, 2016
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2016.
208 pp., trade pbk., ebook & pdf, $11.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 078-1-55380-473-4 (pbk.), ISBN 078-1-55380-474-1 (ebook), ISBN 078-1-55380-475-8 (pdf).
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Bev Brenna.
She woke in the dark. She tried to move but something was holding her arms and legs. She tried to call out but something was blocking her throat. She couldn’t see. She shook her head from side to side. Fear shot through her body.
The beginning of Sand, an intermediate-age novel by Luanne Armstrong, is compelling, with the kind of immediacy that deeply engages readers. A young girl in the aftermath of a car accident is on a breathing tube and experiencing paralysis.
Over the next few chapters, however, the story’s action is too often encumbered by narration; weeks go by in sweeping generalizations as 15-year-old Willy Cameron mires in self-pity. Awkward timing recurs throughout the novel, detracting from the book’s merits in subject matter and plot. In addition to timing issues, grammatical finesse is lost as the author tries to keep up with past and present business. In a scene towards the end of the book, Willy is speaking with her parents about the importance of her work with the troubled horse, Sand, and is triumphant that Sand “was really almost hers.” The narration tells rather than shows that Willy must make even more promises, in the future, “including finally to go to counselling” and then how “she also needed to see Ben. She had phoned his father the next day…”
Uneven writing also appears in relation to point of view. While we generally see the story from Willy’s perspective, the narration occasionally shifts into the perspectives of other characters, for example the therapist who “tried to look sympathetically into Willy’s eyes...”
The time period illuminated by the story is perhaps its most noteworthy difficulty. Willy often seems to be a modern teenager, communicating with friends through email, and, at other times, she seems a much younger girl, or an adolescent of previous decades, promising her father that “I’ll be the bestest goodest kid ever.” In addition, aspects of particular scenes contrast with current practices around professional confidentiality: a receptionist who divulges to Willy the diagnosis of another patient, and a librarian who responds openly to Ben’s query about Willy’s name. While many elements, such as the therapeutic riding stable, itself, seem astutely present-day, often the story’s language—including repeated references to “cripple” and “being crippled,” as well as “the handicapped program,” harkens to stereotypical vocabulary of the past. Without successful attempts to problematize this vocabulary, the book serves to reinforce stereotypical thinking while relying on a trope seen in bygone titles where characters overcome insurmountable odds to transform initially permanent physical diagnoses. In this case, through strenuous riding activity, Willy manages to walk again. “I’m not staying a crippled rider,” she exclaims. The story thus misses an opportunity to engage in a more complex look at possibilities related to life with physical differences.
Unfortunately, other more positive aspects of the book—such as its clear plot line and authentic equestrian details—cannot elevate it to the level of other meritorious titles by this prolific author.
Bev Brenna, a literacy professor at the University of Saskatchewan, has 10 published books for young people.
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