CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 17 . . . . January 5, 2018
Mine! opens with Chris Dearing in crisis. The rent hasn't been paid in two months, and his father spends more time at the Bull and Brambles, his favourite bar, than anywhere else. Family Services has started knocking at the door after a concerned teacher called in to report their concern based on excessive truancy and a general feeling that something wasn't right at home. Chris, a teenaged only child whose mother is out of the picture, is powerless to get his and his father Frank's lives on the right path, and yet he feels all the responsibility. He hides money from his dad to try and make rent (but Frank finds it and wastes it at the bar), he does his best to hide his difficult home life from his teachers (but some, at least, can see right through it), and, when it all comes crashing down at once, he feels like he has no place to turn. Except, of course, the legend of an old family mining claim up in the Yukon, one with a potential pay streak to make him and his father more than comfortable for the rest of their lives.
On the first night, readers meet Chris and Frank, and Frank is bragging of the old Dearing claim at the bar when Chris comes to bring him home – after both the landlord and someone from Family Services come calling on the same night. Randy, a suspicious character, shows up at the apartment later under the guise of returning Frank's forgotten wallet, but clearly he has finding the old gold claim deed in mind. The next day, Frank vows to go out and make rent while Chris does his best to research the gold claim – and finds it is currently available to be registered. All he needs is to get himself and his father up to the Yukon (a claim can only be registered by an adult, of course) and they can stake their claim and start over, fresh and happy. Sadly, Frank's attempt to make rent turns out to be less than legal, and he is on his way to jail, leaving Chris alone to deal with family services, an angry landlord, and a plan to turn their lives around that now seems impossible.
Chris manages to recruit Fiona (who is conveniently from the Yukon), owner of the Bull and Brambles, to take him on the road to get the claim registered. Time is of the essence because, as Chris discovered during his research, the Stuckless family and the Dearings had a conflict over who truly owned the gold claim, and Chris can only assume it is a race against the clock to get the claim registered before a Stuckless gets there first. When Fiona's motorcycle breaks down, the road trip becomes an even more motley crew when Shard, Chris' best friend, comes to the rescue with her uncle Vinnie. Vinnie is an ex con turned entrepreneur whose business venture is a food truck selling muffins (and he is, of course, The Muffin Man) – they load the broken bike in the travelling kitchen and hit the road. The trouble doesn't end there, though, as the suspicious Randy pops up wherever they stop, clearly following them to the Yukon. As this is a very fun read, I don't want to ruin the ending, but suffice it to say that the troubles only multiply when Chris and his friends arrive in Dawson City. However, with the help of a new friend (and a territorial moose), the claim is rightfully registered to the Dearing name, and Chris has a chance to begin a new, stable, happy life up north in the Yukon.
Mine! has a quick paced plot, with enough twists and turns to keep readers turning pages, and it will appeal to strong readers of all genders in its target age bracket. Many of the secondary characters could use more motivation – why does Fiona decide to take off with a kid she has met only once and drive for days to get to the Yukon? Why does Randy know so much about the old Dearing claim but only tries to take it for himself when he hears someone else talking about it in a bar? Why would Vinnie drop everything to join this rag tag adventure? The book leaves the answer to these as, "Mostly, because the plot needs them to". It's a lengthy enough read that some more motivation and backstory could have been included, making the climax and ending all the more satisfying.
The way Hyde deals with children living in poverty and families affected by alcoholism also leaves something to be desired – Shard, for example, is short for Shardonnay (she was born because of a bottle of Chardonnay, you see, but her mother doesn't know how to spell very well) and her siblings, Merle and Reese, clearly follow similar naming conventions. Chris, of course, has one parent who has left and another in jail, but he is taking it upon himself to run across the country with the idea that it will fix everything – and the ending of the story implies his plan did, of course, work. Happy and satisfying endings are good, but treating these social problems so lightly rubs me the wrong way, especially given how well some children living in these circumstances hide their home lives from their peers and adults in the school system. Treating these issues as a joke in passing, and having a plot based on what is, at its core, a harebrained scheme by a child to turn his whole family around and having it succeed, are what leave me unable to recommend this title highly.
The plot and pacing are fun, the plot and characters should appeal widely to all strong readers aged 9 to 12, and it is definitely appropriate for younger children reading above their level.
Susie Wilson is the Data Services Librarian at the University of Northern British Columbia. When she isn't at work, you'll find her curled up with a cup of coffee and a good book.