________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 29 . . . . March 30, 2018


Becca Fair and Foul.

Deirdre Baker.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, May, 2018.
178 pp., hc., HTML & Kindle. $16.95 (hc.), $14.95 (HTML), $14.95 (Kindle).
ISBN 978-1-55498-957-7 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-959-1 (HTML), ISBN 978-1-55498-960-7 (Kindle).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



It was Aunt Fifi's turn to make dinner.

"What are we going to have?" she complained to Becca, crashing the lunch dishes around in Gran's teeny-weeny sink. "I have no ideas. None!"

"Fifi! Mrs. Barker made that bowl!" Gran cried.

"Well, you should have installed a sink it fit into," said Aunt Fifi. "I may have a word with Merlin about it."

"Leave Merlin be," said Gran. "He's—"

"Let's go to the fish-and-chips place at Diver Cove," Becca said. "Then we won't have to cook. Or shop."

"Yes," said Aunt Fifi. "And Merlin can join us. Should he wish to. And you too, Jane. You do enough chores around here to deserve a dinner or two."

"We won't have to wash the dishes," said Becca.

"Or try to get Alicia to wash the dishes," said Jane.

"I don't know," said Gran. "Fish and chips aren't healthy. We could have sea-asparagus stir-fry. It's better for growing girls and there's plenty of it out there."

Becca looked out at the sea asparagus that grew on the beach in front of Gran's. Even as she watched, a border terrier trotted along and lifted its leg there.

"I won't eat it," said Aunt Fifi. "I don't care how many time you or the sea wash it."

"It's just well fertilized," said Gran. "Or we could have lamb's-quarters instead. There's lots of that on the beach. And I spotted some young stinging nettles up by the well. They'd make a good stir-fry, or maybe soup."

"Those nettles were covered with bugs!" said Auntie Meg.

"And we'd have to clean up," said Becca.

"We've done enough chores for the day," Aunt Fifi said.

"For the week!" said Jane.

"For the summer!" Becca said.

"For ever!" Alicia grumped from behind her book.

In 2007, Deirdre Baker gave readers Becca at Sea. Now, over a decade later, Becca is back. Fortunately for her, she is still 11-years-old and still spending time at her grandmother's West Coast island home. It is summer once more, and the place is full-to-bursting with aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as an endless parade of neighbours, wildlife, and—of course—Merlin, the local plumber.

      Becca and Jane, Becca's friend from next door, have had their boating privileges taken away following an unfortunate sailing incident, which—though not altogether their fault—means they are no longer permitted to take out Gran's boat without adult supervision.

      The only way around the situation is to get a boat of their own. That, however, requires money, which they don't have. The solution? Put on a play for everyone on the island. Since Jane took part in a production of The Tempest at school, that's what they settle on.

      The play may be the thing, but it's not without its challenges. Finding actors is a problem, which means Becca, Jane, and cousin, Lucy, must take on multiple roles. Scheduling rehearsal times around Lucy's job and the countless chores Gran doles out is also an issue, as is finding suitable places to practice. The young thespians are determined though, and they stick to their plan, despite an endless stream of distractions from owls, eagles, mink, kinglets, a bear, the aunts, Gran, Merlin, and a spiky-haired woman.

      It is fair to say there is never a dull moment, and Baker does a wonderful job of showing the bustle and sense of community of island life. There is often much ado about nothing, but that is the way of things in a small place. Everyone knows everyone else, and the most mundane things can become very important. I laughed out loud at the doomed expedition for fish and chips, as well as Lucy's bicycle mishap. I felt badly about that, since Lucy was clearly distressed, but Baker deftly turned a disaster into something endearing and funny.

      Throughout the novel, parallels are drawn between actual people and events and those in the play, providing Becca with a series of epiphanies about life. Likewise, her encounters with animals and other natural phenomena such as the Qualicum help her to understand her grandmother's assertion that life has nothing to do with fairness.

      My only quibble with the novel is the play Becca and Jane chose. Is it reasonable that an 11-year old would undertake such a grand project as a play? Absolutely. Would an 11-year-old choose a play by William Shakespeare? Probably not. The antiquated vocabulary and wording preclude comprehension, especially since the girls were doing this on their own. Memorizing lines would be like trying to give a speech in a foreign language. I, therefore, question if middle readers would be drawn into the story since so much of it hinges on the play. In the acknowledgments, Baker notes her inspiration for the story was sparked by a performance of The Tempest by a grade two class. I don't question that the production was excellent, but there was an innovative teacher behind it. If Becca and Jane had been working with a 'modernized' version of the play, I would be more accepting, but the sprinkling of dialogue throughout the novel, indicates they were not.

      "Their understanding begins to swell," Alicia said, gazing into the darkness of the audience, "and the approaching tide will shortly fill the reasonable shore that now lies foul and muddy."

      This matter aside, it is a good story, full of fun and food for thought, and everything comes together nicely in the end.

      And as the bard would say, "All's well that ends well."


Kristin Butcher lives and writes in Campbell River, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, contact cm@umanitoba.ca.

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