- Norma M. Charles (Author)
Criss Cross, Double Cross. Sandcastle (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Margot Griffin (Author)
Dancing for Danger: a Meggy Tale. Stoddart Kids (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Nikki Tate (Author)
Jo's Triumph. Orca Book Publishers (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Cathy Beveridge (Author)
Shadows of Disaster. Ronsdale Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Beth Goodie (Author)
Who Owns Kelly Paddik?. Orca Book Publishers (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by J. Kieran Kealy
Margot Griffin’s Dancing for Danger, convincingly set in 18th-century Ireland, not only provides a sensitive examination of the problems the Irish faced keeping their culture alive under British rule of that time, but also charmingly presents a “pourquoi” tale, chronicling the origin of the “Dancing Banshee” legend. Not surprisingly, the original banshee is the heroine of the tale, Meggy MacGillycuddy, whose ability as an Irish dancer, an activity banned by the British, is what assumes legendary proportions when the school she illegally attends is threatened. I asked my niece, Bridget Kealy, aged 12 and an avid reader well-versed in Irish dancing as well as Irish tradition, what she thought of the novel. She pru- dently began her response by diplomatically suggesting that the text might be more attractive to the British than the Irish, but she also said she was quite caught up in the excitement of the fast-moving plot. And perhaps most significantly, she said it made her appreciate her own education a bit more. Though the tale is only sparsely illustrated, P. John Burden’s computer-generated contributions add greatly to the overall atmosphere of this nostalgic but telling recreation of the past. And, happily, it appears that the “Dancing Banshee,” or at least other tales of Meggy, remain to be told, as Ms. Griffin promises further adventures.
Nikki Tate’s Jo’s Triumph also provides an extremely effective recreation of the past, annotating the adventures of its desperately unhappy heroine after her escape from The Carson City Nevada Home for Unfortunate Girls, and her subsequent job as a Pony Express rider, disguised as a boy. Though some of the plot elements are a bit predictable, the true value of Tate’s account is the meticulous accuracy with which she describes both the life of a Pony Express rider in the early 1860s and the difficulties the Paiute Indians faced during this period. Tate’s “Author’s Note” includes a list of courageous women from the past upon whom Jo’s character is modelled, suggesting that Jo’s triumph is meant to inspire even further journeys into this period by curious readers.
Cathy Beveridge’s Shadows of Disaster also includes Jolene, a girl disguised as a boy, and her journey into the past, but in this tale the journey begins in the present and is accomplished as a result of Jolene’s grandfather’s ability to “go through some time crease and end up back in history somewhere.” The “somewhere” is Crowsnest Pass, British Columbia, in 1903, at the time of the disastrous Frank Slide. As in the case of Jo’s Triumph, Shadows of Disaster is meticulously researched, so much so that Monica Field, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre Manager, praises both the accuracy of Ms. Beveridge’s account, but also its ability to make this disastrous event truly “come to life.” But, to Ms. Beveridge’s credit, the historical journey also provides a quite effective background for an absorbing tale of a young girl learning to come to terms with her own reluctance to take risks as well as, along the way, coping with many of the traditional problems that teenagers face in any age. Even Jo’s father, a somewhat staid former university mathematics professor who is rather haltingly trying to create a museum commemorating past dis- asters, learns from Jolene’s adventures, as she is finally able to convince him that true museums should not be like Social Studies classes, but should make the past come alive, something that, one might add, Ms. Beveridge certainly accomplishes.
Though noted British Columbian author Norma Charles’ Criss Cross, Double Cross is also set in the past—Maillardville, BC, in the early 1950s—her heroine need not disguise herself as a boy to assume heroic proportions, for she is not simply Sophie, awkward teenager trying to fit into the daunting social system of a new school, but Star Girl, an alter-ego she has borrowed from her favourite comic book heroine. Her antagonists, however, are not garbed super-villains, but stuck-up classmates like Elizabeth Proctor, the reigning social queen of her new school, and unfairly judged talent contests. That Star Girl will triumph over all odds is a given. (We have already witnessed her endurance and heroic stamina in Charles’ justly acclaimed first Star Girl book, Runaway, Sophie Sea to Sea). Despite a cover illustration that gives away a bit more of the plot than it should, the adventures of Sophie are thoroughly entrancing, invigorated by Charles’ noted ability to make even the most commonplace events memorable. Quite effectively woven into Sophie’s adventures are events connected to the strike of two Roman Catholic schools in the spring of 1951 to protest new tax regulations. But Charles’ interest is not in the political nuances of this event, but in the practical effect on the students of these schools and the ability of Star Girl to overcome even governmental adversaries. One can only eagerly await her next adventure.
I save Beth Goobie’s Who Owns Kelly Paddik? for last because it provides a significantly different approach to the traditional young adult heroine. Kelly Paddik does not live in some past era, nor does she disguise herself as a boy in her search for identity. Rather she is an inmate at an institution, sent there as a danger to herself after an attempted suicide. Though the details of Kelly’s extremely sordid past are only briefly sketched (with no attempt to play upon their potential sensationalist possibilities), Kelly’s first-person account of her search for an identity, her desperate attempt to establish some modicum of self- respect, is a rivetting tale. Although this book is extremely brief, less than 100 pages, one nonetheless comes to know and empathize with this extraordinarily troubled teen. Unlike the Charles text, the cover of this text provides, not a preview of the climactic event, but a wonderful insight into what both Kelly and the reader must search for. The portrait is of a hand holding a door-key. Is this the key to the prison gates, allowing Kelly the escape from this prison that she so desperately desires from the story’s initial lines, or something else, something that might be found upon learning to trust others, and, finally, oneself? Despite its potentially controversial content, Goobie’s brief opus is certainly well worth owning.
Above all, the five texts suggest the vitality of the young Canadian heroine in today’s mercurial Young Adult market. From dancing banshees to survivors of the Pony Express, the Frank Slide, new Maillardville schools and the seedy Winnipeg streets, all of these young women turn out, in their own unique ways, to be “Star Girls,” beacons to their readers to seek their own heroic possibilities.
- Voracious for Life by Sally Armstrong
Books reviewed: The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor: The First Woman Settler of the Miramichi by Sally Armstrong and Watermelon Syrup by Di Brandt, Jane Finlay-Young, and Annie Jacobson
- All Thought Up and Nowhere To Go by Greg Doran
Books reviewed: Therefore Choose by Keith Oatley and Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk
- An Intergenerational Approach to Truth by Maria Pentrelli Cotroneo
Books reviewed: The Prudent Mariner by Leslie Walker Williams and I Have My Mother's Eyes by Barbara Ruth Bluman
- Historical Novel & Bildungsroman by Lothar Honnighausen
Books reviewed: The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston
- History Made Interesting by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Books reviewed: Beginnings: Stories of Canada's Past by Ann Walsh, The Name of the Child by Don Kilby and Marilynn Reynolds, Winds through Time: An Anthology of Canadian Historical Young Adult Fiction by Ann Walsh, and Sacred Sarah by Mary Alice Downie and Muriel Wood
MLA: Kealy, J. Kieran. Star Girls. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #183 (Winter 2004), Writers Talking. (pg. 130 - 132)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.