Blood Brothers by Winnipeg author Colleen Nelson (Dundurn, 237 pages, $13, paperback) is a young-adult novel that will shock and scare, but also intrigue and enlighten.
Set in an only thinly disguised section of Winnipeg’s North End, the story follows 15-year-old best friends. Link and Jakub are inseparable, until Link’s older brother Henri returns from jail and heads up a gang called the Red Bloodz.
Link and Jakub also have a love of tagging — spray-painting messages and scenes on public buildings — but when Jakub gets a chance at attending a prestigious school Link feels abandoned and turns to the Red Bloodz instead. Henri persuades Link that stealing cars only penalizes insurance companies. But before long, misdemeanours escalate into murder. Meanwhile, Jakub is torn between living up to his father’s expectations and trying to keep Link out of trouble.
Nelson’s novel pits friendship and family values against the attractions of easy money and gang acceptance. The author of Finding Hope, The Fall and Tori by Design, this is her most serious novel so far and one that deserves acclaim.
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Fans of fantasy may enjoy Spindle by Ontario writer E.K. Johnston (Hyperion, 368 pages, $20, hardcover). A companion young-adult novel to A Thousand Nights, it is set several hundred years after the first book.
The demons, who were driven out by the Storyteller Queen and kept imprisoned by the power of bright iron, have managed to regain power. When the true princess — the Little Rose — is born, a demon is waiting to inflict a curse upon her that leads her to a crucial decision.
Spindle traces the journey of a group of spinners with their magic spindles as they journey across the mountains to regain their kingdom and defeat the demons who threaten them.
Johnston is a forensic archaeologist by training who has written several books in the fantasy genre. This Sleeping Beauty rewrite will appeal to lovers of myth and legend.
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A graphic novel, Seeking Refuge by Irene N. Watts and illustrated by Kathryn Shoemaker (Tradewind/ Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 128 pages, $19, paperback) does an admirable job of telling the story of one child who is separated from her family and sent from Germany to Britain during the early years of the Second World War.
A followup to Goodbye Marianne, Seeking Refuge shows how differing customs, lack of sympathy and hostile feelings impact this young girl who has never before been separated from her family. She is shuttled between different households where she is ignored, abused, or simply taken advantage of before she is finally reunited with her mother.
The similarity between her situation and that of hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees today is clear.
Shoemaker’s illustrations are done in black and white pencil, and their very sparsity adds a sombre feeling to the narrative. Readers eight to 12 years of age who appreciate graphic novels will find this an interesting read.
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Anyone who dislikes rainy days would enjoy Under the Umbrella by French author Catherine Buquet and illustrated by Marion Arbona (Pajama Press, 32 pages, $19, hardcover). First published in French and here translated by Erin Woods, the book describes how a grumpy older man complains about the rain until he meets a young child who ignores the downpour as he gazes at the window of a pastry shop in Paris. Eventually the man joins the child to sample the delectable offerings.
Arbona’s artwork, in gouache and pencil, is the real highlight of this rhyming story. She is a three-time Governor General’s Award finalist, and her unique illustrations evoke the very feeling of a rain-soaked day. For youngest readers (2-4).
Helen Norrie is a former teacher/librarian who enjoys the variety and excitement of children’s books.