CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 39. . . .June 8, 2018
Unity Club. (Orca Currents).
Victoria, BC: Orca, August, 2018.
131 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1724-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1725-8 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1726-5 (epub).
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Libby McKeever.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“It’s just me and my dad at my place,” I say. ‘I’m an only child, and my parents got divorced a few years ago. My mom moved to Winnipeg a while back. She wanted to be closer to her new boyfriend.
I don’t realize there’s an edge in my voice until Jude speaks up. “So, I’m guessing you don’t like him very much.”
“I’ve never met the guy,” I say, “But—”
Jude’s phone vibrates. He looks at it, then jumps from the table.
“Sorry,” he says. “I need to go.”
“Is everything okay?”
But he dashes from the coffee shop without another word. I don’t think he even heard me.
I pack up my homework and pull on my coat. I think about our conversation as I head back out into the cold. I probably shouldn’t have complained to Jude about my mom. His situation is probably way worse than mine. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be living in a group home. Still, he was easy to talk to. And he seemed to really listen to me. At least until that text came through.
An ambulance zips by, its siren blaring.
“Oh no!” I cry as I see it stop in front of the senior’s home.
I start running.
Brett has been struggling ever since her parents’ marriage fell apart. At first, her mother lived in a house close by and Brett was able to still see her, and they could do all the normal mom-daughter things together. But when her mom left Edmonton to move to Winnipeg so she could live with her boyfriend Zolton and his kids, Brett feels totally rejected. In response, Brett refuses to answer any of her mom’s texts and instead throws herself into her main extracurricular activity, The Unity Club.
When a group home for at-risk youth opens in her neighborhood, Brett is ready to accept its presence, but she is dismayed at some locals’ open criticism and their wanting the home to be situated “anywhere other than this neighborhood”. This first exposure to NIMBYism spurs Brett on, and she encourages the Unity Club to welcome the group home youth at school. Jude, one of the boys from the group home, joins the club and fits right in, volunteering and fundraising for the club’s activities.
The neighbours’ fears of increased vandalism and crime after the group home opened seem to be realized when property is damaged and buildings are marred by graffiti. Even though the school’s principal addressed the need for respect, to not point fingers, or start accusing people, inevitably these behaviors happen and Jude stops going to the club’s meetings.
The Unity Club donates blankets they have knitted to the residents at the local seniors home, Fairview Court. When one of the seniors is rushed to hospital after a fall, rumors fly that she had been attacked, and people, even members of the Unity Club, begin to suspect the teens from the group home. Brett hasn’t seen Jude as he’s been missing school, and, even against her better judgement, she is also beginning to have her suspicions.
When it becomes evident that the recent crime and the senior’s fall had nothing to do with the teens from the group home, Jude reaches out to Brett. She soon learns that Jude and his brother became part of the foster system when their mother died from cancer and they had no other family. Through Jude, Brett realizes that family is precious and, after she reads through her mom’s texts, Brett decides to join her for the weekend to try and mend their rift.
Unity Club is one of the “Orca Currents” titles, a series that provides high interest-low vocabulary stories for readers 10-14 years. The novel is an engaging story about adversity, social responsibility, homelessness, and forgiveness. Tweens and teens will find this book to be very readable and relatable as the students struggle with the will to do the right thing but are swayed by social pressure and the need for acceptance by friends. Brett’s struggle to accept her new situation, including her bitterness towards her mom, is also one that many readers whose parents are separated have experienced.
Karen Spafford-Fitz, a teacher of elementary and junior-high students, has written a YA novel, Saving Grad, as well as two upper-middle-grade novels, Vanish and Dog Walker. Her books have been recognized among the year's best books by Resource Links and by the Canadian Children's Book Centre. Spafford-Fitz’s newest book, Push Back, will be published in the fall of 2018.
Libby McKeever is a retired Youth Services Librarian from Whistler, BC.
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