I really have to stop reviewing Kristin Butcher’s novels for the Orca Soundings and Current series. How many ways can I find to say “Kristin Butcher shows yet again that effective character development and interesting, non-trivial plots can be created in the scope of a short novel written for reluctant readers”? In Cabin Girl, Butcher (yet again) tells an engaging story that will attract readers from the target demographic: teenagers who struggle with reading, for whatever reason.
Like most 16 year olds, Bailey wants to prove to her parents that she is capable of making her own decisions about her life. She talks them into letting her work at a fly-in resort owned by her godfather, Gabe: “They’re counting on him to keep an eye on me,” she tells her 19-year-old cabin-mate, April. The work is harder than she expected; she is less adept that she would like; her boss “could out-sour lemons” (15); and mornings come earlier at Witch Lake than they ever did at home… All in all, Bailey’s summer work experience starts out rocky. April befriends her, though, and the tentative friendship she builds with the waitress develops a slight tinge of hero worship. (“She smart. She’s good at her job, and she’s tough. Did you know she’s been on her own since she was fourteen?”) Her listener, the long-time employee Ed, provides a subtle foreshadowing of where Butcher will take her story: “Are you the president of her fan club, or what?” “Now you’re making fun of me.” “Sorry, I don’t mean to. You’re actually a breath of fresh air around here. So I’d hate—” Then April reappears, stifling any explanation (29).
The plot threads winding about each other involve Bailey’s developing but complicated relationship with April; the mysterious activities of Dennis Savoy, a soft, middle-aged guest who is neither a fisherman nor a photographer, although he brings gear for both; and the local legend of Witch Lake, a ghost story frightening enough to give any teenaged girl the heebie-geebies. When Meira, the second waitress, is taken to hospital with a badly burned arm, and April and Bailey are given her duties to split, the friendship becomes strained. Bailey is puzzled by April’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (61) personality change, and by the number of slip-ups in her work that she can neither remember nor explain. The reader can perhaps see what is coming, but Bailey’s innocent trust in the friendship she has worked hard to develop blinds her to April’s inexplicable, malicious behaviour. Bailey is not the weak “princess” April assumes her to be, though. Her eyes opened, Bailey quickly learns to rely on herself, and let April rue the consequences of her own actions.
“Things have a way of working out,” Ed tells Bailey, and for Bailey they do. In the end, April is held responsible for her decisions in the adult world, and Bailey learns a valuable second-hand lesson—or rather, has her moral position validated: April “has had a hard go of it, but … that doesn’t make it okay to abuse the rules and other people” (118). In Cabin Girl, Butcher resists the temptation to over-dramatize her characters or their situation: Bailey’s experience does not result in drastic changes in her life, or her world view, but rather provides a moment of growth in confidence in both herself and the adult world around her.