________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 13 . . . . March 1, 2002

cover The Popsicle Journal.

Don Trembath.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2001.
147 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-185-8.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

*** /4


My mind was numb. I felt like I had been laid out on the street and run over by about fifty gravel trucks. But that wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was, I didn't feel like a reporter anymore. I felt like a pretender, or an actor trying to look the part instead of actually being the part, and I was even doing a lousy job of that, too.

A good reporter recognizes a story the second it happens. A very good reporter sees the story coming and writes about it before it even arrives, or is standing there waiting for it when it does arrive.

There is no name for a reporter who lives and eats breakfast and goes out for supper with a news story for over a month and doesn't even know it's there.

In this fourth book in Trembath's series about Harper Winslow, our winsome protagonist finds himself with his first real job. Working after school and on weekends as a reporter for the weekly local paper, The Emville Express, Harper discovers in this job a perfect opportunity to put into practice, and refine, his budding skills as a writer. He is even more delighted when his boss gives him his own column. However, he is also soon confronted with many of the harsh realities associated with his chosen field. His hard-nosed editor blames him for not breaking the story of his father's decision to run for mayor, and, with the election in full swing, the editor makes it clear that he expects Harper to be on top of any such potential scoops. When Harper finds his older sister's name on the docket at the local courthouse, he must wrestle with his conscience: can he bring himself to write about the impaired driving charge against her, especially when he knows how damaging such a story could be to his father's bid for election? On the other hand, can he afford to let this story get away and incur the wrath of his employer yet again? Faced with a very difficult decision, Harper must decide whether his first priority should be that of a reporter or of a brother and son wishing to protect his family.

     The Popsicle Journal will find a ready audience amongst reluctant readers. It is an engaging, well-paced plot that is relatively uncluttered and easy to follow. There are only a handful of characters introduced in the story, and they are straightforward and uncomplicated. Yet, there are still some thought-provoking issues raised within the story. The whole question of what exactly are the responsibilities of a "good" reporter, and how much should one be willing to sacrifice for a job, these are topical issues that will no doubt be of interest to many young readers. The writing style is solid: clear, concise, suitably descriptive and laced with a touch of humour. It will leave readers curious to know what happens next in Harper's life.

     While this book could be a pleasant surprise for struggling readers, average young adults will find the narrative a little too thin. The character development is minimal, and they are, for the most part, fairly one-dimensional individuals. For example, Trembath creates a vivid image of Harper's antagonist, Rufus, as a sleazy reporter-type, but he never emerges as anything more (or less) than that. The character of Clarissa, Harper's sister, had potential, but her story never really materialized in this book. The plot is pretty basic, and so for an enthusiastic reader there isn't a lot to sink your teeth into, and while it does bring out some interesting questions, they are never really explored in any great depth here. Nevertheless, it is a witty and enjoyable light read that will be very valuable as a book for teens who resist reading. It may also hold particular appeal for would-be students of journalism.


Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364