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. Volume VIII Number 3 . . . . October 5, 2001
"What doesn't make sense to me," Wynd says, "is how on earth an orphan got hold of a bunch of crystal balls and silk scarves. Did she steal them?"No Cafes in Narnia is a sensitive, funny novel about how a 13-year-old girl's life falls apart when she has to move to a new school, her grandfather dies and her mother develops depression. A sequel to Tarragon Island, which won the BC 2000 Book Award, this novel is a glimpse into the life of Heather Blake, an aspiring writer whose family has just moved to Tarragon Island, off the coast of BC. Heather's life threatens to overwhelm her, a feeling common to many grade 7 and 8 students. Then a younger friend involves her in sleuthing as they try to figure out who donated some stolen stamps.
The dialogue in this book rings true to teenage life, but it is the writing style that will appeal to all writer wannabes. Each chapter begins with a quote by a famous writer that reflects Heather's present position. (Collected quote # 18: Writing for me was always an inside thing. It's always been the way in which I maintain my sanity. - William Gibson) Every once in a while, Heather's thoughts about her activities appear in italics as if she were writing them down. (Writer Girl moves like she's in a dream, her limbs heavy and awkward. She imagines herself stuck in this moment forever, a tragic figure, her face a mask of grief.) A true writer, Heather's vision of written words that jump into the mind in response to experiences even extends to her own tragedy at her grandfather's death. (Writer Girl froze in the darkness. Froze in the darkness. Froze in the darkness.)
The stamp mystery will appeal to younger students while older students will nod in sympathy with Heather's frustration over her family and her attempts to make friends. It is noteworthy that Heather's mother's struggle with depression is clearly and sympathetically drawn, down to the family's bewilderment and anger in their attempts to understand mental illness. Heather's character develops throughout the book as she thinks through how to approach Eric and how to respond to her mother's illness in a less selfish way.
The depiction of Heather on the front cover is unfortunate, as she appears closer to 9 or 10 than 13. This portrayal will effectively prevent older students who might enjoy this story from picking it up.
Although No Cafes in Narnia will appeal to many grades 4 to 7 students, burgeoning writers will gather it in with a sigh of recognition and hope.
Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.
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