Trip to the Moon (2013), by Vera Evic

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 19.2.

Evic - MoonTrip to the Moon tells of three Inuit boys enjoying their world in the fashion of boys everywhere: they ride their bikes, skip stones in the water, and go poking in the dirt. What Kevin, Jacob, and Michael find, though, is an old oil drum, situating them in a rural environment as much as does mention of their town: Pagnirtung, Nunavut. The simple story in English is repeated below by the same story (I assume) in Inuktitut. The drawings are simple—in differing and mixed media—with the sky a seeming homage to Emily Carr.

The oil drum, it turns out, is magic, and transports the boys to the moon, where they meet a race of little people and explore the moon’s environment much as they explored back home. When their stomachs rumble, they begin their return flight, only to have Michael slip off the drum and … “he landed—on the floor, next to his bed” (20), conforming to the “all just a dream” motif.

The story is simple, almost clichéd; the language is plain and uninspired, containing no poetic rhythm or language, no echo of oral story-telling. The drawings are acceptable, but what makes this book special is the parallel English and Inuktitut, providing a story of their culture, in their language, to young readers in Nunavut. “Inuktitut books for children” is a very slowly growing library: any addition is greatly to be welcomed.

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Post-Human (2009), by David Simpson

Accepting that Post-Human is self-published by David Simpson, a young Vancouver author, we can overlook a number of publishing and editorial mistakes.  The plot itself is original and interesting: humankind has approached physical perfection through the introduction of nanobots into our bodies.  When a universal update goes devastatingly wrong, a few scientists momentarily off-line on Venus are saved.  The plot revolves around their search for other surviving humans, and their battle against the A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) that has taken over control of the nanosystem.  Concepts in the story remind one strongly of M. T. Anderson’s Feed (2002) melded with William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), but Simpson has introduced a number of interesting elements that bear consideration by those readers interested in contemplating where modern and futuristic technology will take the human race.  The strongest success in the novel is the characterization; Simpson’s ethnically interesting mix of characters avoids stereotypes and allows us to engage readily with individuals on both sides of the human conflicts that develop.  Overall, a very interesting novel that suffers most from a lack of professional editing and publication.

Fright Flight (2011), by Lisa Ard

Lisa Ard’s Dream Seekers series is great fun for younger readers!  It begins with a fascinating and original premise: Patrick, his siblings, and their mother are “dream seekers,” which means that when they dream at night, they actually experience their dreams, not just in their minds but with their entire begins.  The logistics behind this are not fully explored—at least not in Book One: Fright Flight—but I can imagine a few ways that the experiential side of the dream narratives could be justified.  The set up for the series is promising, and the dynamics in the family sound: the siblings share normal childhood rivalries, the mother is teaching her children how to use their intellectual capabilities to control their dreams, and the father—a scientist—is working at discovering the gene that contributes to the condition.

Fright Flight involves Patrick breaking the family “D.R.E.A.M.” rules for reducing dreaming at night: he goes with his friends to a late movie, and has soda (caffeine and sugar), which over-stimulates his mind. His dream that night is of flying a spaceship on a dangerous mission—but he is only 12!  Fortunately, the controls are (not surprisingly) similar to his video gaming system at home…

The plot, the characters, the premise: all of these suggest a strong, engaging narrative. But there are a couple of weaknesses that prevented me from fully enjoying Fright Flight. The style and structure of the books both suggest a much younger readership—say 6 to 8 years of age—than the protagonist’s age and interests. Patrick is 12, and just beginning to be interested in girls, yet the book is a 52-page chapter book far more suited to younger readers. In addition to this discrepancy, the actual writing is stilted, with far too much delivered in a lecturing voice by the narrator or the characters, rather than being effectively revealed to the reader through action or dialogue. But for the younger set, I think we have here a book—a series—that will be fun and enjoyable.

A Wrinkle in Time (1962), by Madeline L’Engle

A classic of American children’s literature, this series is particularly powerful for young girls who feel that they don’t fit in because “girls aren’t supposed to be smart.”  Meg Murry was long one of my fictional heroes, and her strength in saving her brother when her father was unable to do so made me feel that girls had abilities that men and boys never could.  It was an empowering thought, raised in small-town BC in the 1960s-80s.  The science fiction aspects of the novel, the dystopic elements of the world Meg’s father is found in, all strike a cord in the heart of girls who want to travel to the stars just as much as their brothers do.

A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

I wrote the introductory comments years ago, but still from memories of reading the series as a youth. Now, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Wrinkle in Time, there has been some discussion of the series on the child_lit listserve run out of Rutgers University (https://email.rutgers.edu/mailman/listinfo/child_lit). In honour of the occasion, in deference to a text that sincerely influenced my life as a youth, I felt I should re-read the novel, as an adult.  Not surprisingly, my opinion differs slightly from my memories…

“It was a dark and stormy night. In her attic bedroom, Meg Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed…” Even Snoopy pays homage to the opening of the novel. Repeatedly. The image of young Meg, her normal strength of character overcome by the storm, sets the stage for the battle between strength and insecurity that she engages in through the course of the narrative. Perhaps it is this internal struggle that rings most true with young female readers; I think it was for me. Through it all, Meg does not conquer unequivocally; she does not vanquish the foe; she merely survives, and saves the ones she loves, prepared—later, in a more mature moment—to continue the fight against The Black Thing that is Evil manifested.

A Wrinkle in Time still stands out as a monumental text in the tradition of female protagonists: how many of us have felt inspired by Meg’s need to think outside the box: like Einstein, to be allowed to show her intellect in the way that works for her? I must admit that I never fully identified with Meg, or Calvin, or Charles Wallace—I was not that brilliant—but I lived with someone who should have (my brother) and I now live with another (my daughter, although I have yet to convince her to read the novel!). I was nonetheless intelligent enough to suffer in highschool for my difference (no dates for me!) and thus sympathized intensely with Meg’s position. I dreamed of a way to show that my difference was not “weird” or abnormal, and tutored as many students—both marginalized and popular—as I could, to show that I bore them no ill will, in the hopes that then they would bear me none.  Mostly, it worked; often, though, I would retreat into novels, where I could live vicariously through the (mostly male) protagonists, who managed to find ways to realize their dreams, their possibilities. Meg was a God-send; she was everything Heinlein’s male protagonists were, and more: a loving daughter, a good Christian, a strong girl but with natural and (I felt) inevitable insecurities in a man’s world: a girl I could look up to.

Her story, too, was simple yet profound. L’Engle creates alternate worlds that for all their otherness ring psychologically true—I think still today; certainly they were completely believable (once you suspended your disbelief regarding time and space travel) in the 1970s when I first read the series. Reading the novel as an adult, I am surprised at the simplicity of the prose, at Calvin’s quick and unquestioning acceptance of his role as Meg’s boy-friend-to-be. As a youth, I remember the (what I thought as) subtle romance to be perfectly presented; now I think it a little heavy-handed. But the relationship between Meg and Charles Wallace, and Meg and her father, are perfectly portrayed, even to a modern, mature reader. I remember, too, not knowing—honestly not knowing—what it was that Meg had that IT didn’t… until she discovered it herself.  And I wonder whether modern readers have more narrative expectation behind their reading of the novel. Will they experience the joy that I did as a young girl, discovering L’Engle’s worlds and ideas as new and innovative? How much of it will seem surprising and original to today’s readers, given how much has been written since, piled upon the shoulders of literary giants such as A Wrinkle in Time?

Look for the reviews of the sequels: A Wind in the Door (1973), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), and Many Waters (1986) to follow as I finish them…