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 17.3.
In Howl, Karen Hood-Caddy has created a story that will resonate strongly with many young readers, populated as it is with psychologically realistic characters whom everyone will recognize. The protagonist, Robin, is both strong and insecure, having recently lost her mother; Robin’s older sister is a typical teen, dealing with loss by acting out, and her younger brother, “Squirm,” is both annoying and loveable. Her father, a veterinary, is struggling to provide support for his children and hold his own life together after the loss of his wife. The crucial aspect of his own grieving is that he moves his family from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to northern Ontario where his mother lives on a large property beside a lake. Combine the complicated (and successfully portrayed) dynamics of a grieving family with bullying neighbours and growing (and not quite legal) wild-life rescue operation, and we have a novel rich with possibilities. It may sound like there is too much going on, but Hood-Caddy balances the different, equally important, aspects of Robin’s new rural life perfectly: we see life from Robin’s young perspective, glossed by sparse and effective wisdom from her “eccentric” grandmother, Griff.
Through her involvement in a school project on ecological consciousness, and her activities helping to heal injured wild animals, Robin eventually learns to trust in happiness again. The threats she encounters—both socially and legally—are dealt with in ways that readers will perceive as possible in their own lives. More than just an engaging story of a young girl growing back into strength after trauma, Howl presents the reader with a map—both psychologically and logistically—of how young people can grow towards maturity and efficacy within their world.