CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 6. . . . October 13, 2017
A conscientious grade eight student and budding photographer, Owen Sharpe and his granddad Neville share an interest in the Icelandic Canadian poet-farmer Stephan G. Stephansson. Owen even wrote a tribute poem in Stephansson’s style for his deceased grandmother. When his parents travel to Las Vegas, Owen stays behind in Alberta under the care of his loving granddad. Needing to return a medal and a journal to Iceland for a friend, a translator of Icelandic poetry, Neville impulsively decides to book flights and take Owen to Iceland with him. Owen is excited to visit Iceland for the first time, but he is also eager to retrieve his own journal that Neville had accidentally sent to Iceland as the journal contains information Owen would like kept secret. Unfortunately, Neville fails to notify Owen’s parents or his neighbours of their trip, and he also forgets to pack his driver’s license or any clothes other than socks. While in Iceland, things begin to add up for Owen, and he starts to realize that Neville’s memory is failing. A local woman, Aris, takes Owen and Neville under her wing and helps them return the journal and medal, get in contact with Owen’s parents and secure transportation around the island.
The Things Owen Wrote is not your typical tween novel. Author Jessica Scott Kerrin’s story is played out on the unusual island of Iceland, and it features many references to the poet Stephan G. Stephansson and his work and farm. The story unfolds slowly, with much description of both the Albertan and Icelandic landscapes. Owen’s experience with his granddad’s failing memory is poignant and touching and accurately captures Owen’s feelings of unease, worry and disbelief.
Readers must wait until the final chapters to learn that Owen wanted his journal contents kept secret because he had plagiarized a few of Stephansson’s lines in his tribute poem. Led to believe that Owen’s journal contained an earth shattering secret, this final reveal results in a bit of an anti-climax. While the story touches on important themes, such as loss, aging and responsibility and can serve as an introduction to Stephansson’s poetry and the uniqueness of Iceland, the retrieval of Owen’s journal may not be enough of a draw to keep some young readers committed. On the other hand, those interested in Iceland or looking for a gentle story with elements of history, geography and poetry will not be disappointed.
Cate Carlyle is a former elementary teacher currently residing in Halifax, NS, where she is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University. Iceland is on Cate’s bucket list.