This is a seemingly fairly accurate presentation of the life of a young teenage boy left to tend the homestead while his father returns to civilization to fetch his mother, younger sister, and a new baby. In the early days, Matt makes a number of mistakes, but is saved from the consequences of his stupidity by a local First Nations chief and his teenaged grandson. Under arrangements by the grandfather, the two boys must work together, and consequently learn to first respect and then appreciate each other as brothers. Each boy comes to manhood in his own, culturally specific way, and they part knowing that each must follow the path his own society constructs for him. While not a YA novel, it presents a mature depiction of cross-cultural understanding that the young reader can learn from positively.
The power of the novel, however, is offset by the advertisement in the back pages for Speare’s Calico Captive, of which chapter 2 is reprinted. Calico Captive, unlike either The Sign of the Beaver or The Witch of Blackbird Pond, seems to rely heavily on negative stereotypes of First Nations aggression. While White people were historically taken captive, the scenes presented—albeit in isolation—from this third novel do not hold up well to scrutiny.
When I reviewed Many Waters (1986), by Madeleine L’Engle, I was flippantly critical of the short little mammoths that she had populating her Biblical world. Yesterday, the following report was released in the Vancouver Sun (9 May 2012: B3). Apparently, despite the nuances of our modern language, dwarf mammoths did exist, and they were “cute.” Still, it doesn’t seem any more appropriate than Vietnamese miniature Pot-bellied Pigs: where is the dignity in being a miniature pig? or a dwarf mammoth?
If only I read my facebook posts in a timely fashion! This hot off the presses: Open Book Toronto has published an article on Kevin Sylvester, in which you can enter a competition to win the first three books in the Neil Flambé Capers series. Enter, all of you, and I hope someone I know wins!
This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 15.1.
The Middle of Everywhere
Noah is pleased to leave his bullied school life in Toronto to live for a year with his father, but moving to George River, in far northern Québec, seems to be going a bit far. It really is the middle of nowhere. Circumstances force him to engage with his father’s northern community, and he ultimately learns what it is his father loves and respects in this land and these people. For them, George River is the middle of everywhere.
Monique Polak has written a powerful novel that blends the emotional insecurities of young teenage boys with their need to be strong: socially, physically, emotionally. Noah’s internal monologue rings true; what he learns is a lesson young readers—male and female—can follow and believe in. The story itself interweaves social and familial drama with more exciting events, culminating in Noah meeting a polar bear in a blizzard while winter camping. To urban readers, this may seem overly clichéd, but Polak delivers her tale with a simplicity and realism that bring the readers into the northern world. Polak incorporates the customs and language of the Inuit seamlessly into her narrative, facilitating readers’ comfort and acceptance of her story, and helping us to feel that the world she depicts not only could be, but is, essentially true.
Those of you who follow this blog might be wondering why it is no longer called “Karyn’s View,” even while it remains my view of what I read… Well, I was on a friend’s computer, and googled “Karyn’s View” to try to get to my blog quickly, and instead got a completely different person’s social blog. I run into so few people who spell their name the same way that I do, that it was a bit of a surprise! So, I thought, I guess I should change my blog title. And I did. The name, though, is not as imaginative as I would like. Comments from friends at the time were distinctly age-inappropriate, so I welcome suggestions for improvement!
This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 15.3.
Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction
Artemis Fowl meets Gordon Ramsey. Who’s own opinion—“Good fun”—adorns the cover of the first book, Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders (2010). I have to say, I like Neil Flambé a lot more than I like Artemis Fowl; but then, I have trained as a chef, not a criminal mastermind, and I understand Neil’s culinary obsessiveness. Nonetheless, what makes Neil Flambé more than just a spoilt, self-important boy-chef is Sylvester’s ability to reveal Neil’s humanity, even possibly humility, in times when such a response is most appropriate. Neil’s presentation as a fourteen-year-old boy who understands both his own greatness and the fallibility of his youth, coupled with the wisdom of his gentle-giant mentor Angel Jícama, the casual intelligence of his side-kick cousin Larry, and a plot that has sufficient twists and turns to engage the young reader, presents a recipe for success.
Sylvester’s clever use of tangential referents peppers both the narration and the characters’ comments; I particularly like the comment about the “dim-witted duo” having “returned from the trip down the eerie canal” (172), a reference distinctly pointed at the young Canadian reader. In keeping with the abundance of Canadiana embedded in its pages, Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction resembles Goethe’s “inhabited garden,” revealing the common humanity in characters from all nations and ethnicities. Sean Nakamura is indicative of the characters Sylvester gives us: a detective from Vancouver, with an Irish first name and a Japanese last name. Similarly, Neil’s girl friend has recently moved from Spain, and his mentor is an indigeno from southern Mexico. The ethics of multiculturalism extend to Neil’s experience of Mexico, and provide a learning experience for both character and reader: through his culinary respect for the poverty-stricken Margarita, who cooks exquisite home-style food for workers at a garbage dump, Neil learns that not only the rich deserve—or appreciate—fine cooking. Neil has no epiphany: he remains committed to his drive for fame and fortune, but his understanding of his relationship to his clientèle and his world has altered subtly.
Of the plot, I will say little, except that it is carefully constructed narrative recipe, containing a number of unexpected ingredients that keep the reader hungry for more. All in all, Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction is a fitting sequel to the excellent first volume in the series. Sylvester admitted during his visit to the Vancouver International Writers’ (and Readers’) Festival in October that he was hard at work on Neil #3. I, for one, cannot wait for the third course of this gripping narrative meal.