Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Local scenes, troubled teens

Coming-of-age story takes place amid Winnipeg's gang violence

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Nelson, a Winnipegger, has a sharp ear for authentic dialogue in her first young-adult novel.

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Nelson, a Winnipegger, has a sharp ear for authentic dialogue in her first young-adult novel.

Winnipeg author Colleen Nelson, who garnered praise for her first young-adult novel, Tori by Design, has set her new novel, The Fall (Great Plains, 180 pages, $15 paperback) here in her adopted city, amid gang wars and teen violence.

The Fall is the story of four young men: the menacing Dumont brothers -- Taz and Luke -- their sidekick Cory Anderson, and Ben, who has never been part of their bullying or illicit drug-taking, but is impressed by their powerful image.

Ben gets his highs by skateboarding and spends every spare moment at the skateboard park near the railroad lines. But when Luke asks him to join them for an evening at the movies he doesn't want to refuse.

The outcome of that evening is a tragedy Ben could never have imagined. Nelson takes each young man in turn, showing how each one deals with the disaster in his own way. She reveals her knowledge of gang pressure, of teen psychology and of family interaction. She shows confidence in her use of skateboarding slang and has a sharp ear for authentic dialogue.

While this could be called a warning against gang membership, or the evils of drinking and drug-taking, it is really a coming-of-age story in a modern setting.

The dragons Ben faces are gangs, drugs and alcohol, but they are just as real and much more menacing than medieval monsters.

Teens will relate to many things in this novel, as well as to the familiar scenes and locations.

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Just in time for summer, Toronto author and former Montreal columnist Heather Hartt-Sussman has written a sequel to her previous hilarious picture book, Nana's Getting Married.

Her new book, Nana's Summer Surprise (Tundra, 32 pages, $20 hardcover) features the same feisty modern grandma (she likes to dance in her bathing suit in the rain and swim races across the lake) but also introduces the subject of extended family members learning to like each other.

When the granddaughter of Nana's new husband arrives at the lake, Nana's grandson is disappointed. She's not only grown a foot, she's turned into a typical teenager, who'd rather paint her toenails and read fashion magazines than go berry-picking or camp out in the back yard with him.

However, the two find a common project they can work on together and the summer turns out to be a happy time after all.

Alberta artist Georgia Graham, who has illustrated the Wanda books by Barbara Azore as well as Hartt-Sussman's earlier book, has contributed suitably zany illustrations, which add to the amusement of this contemporary-themed picture book. Good fun for ages three to six.

-- -- --

Former Winnipeg author and now B.C. resident Kristin Butcher has written more than 20 books for children, including The Runaways and the Zach and Zoe series. Her latest young adult novel, Truths I Learned from Sam (Dundurn, 184 pages, $13 paperback), is a sensitive, compelling story about a 17-year-old who finds meaning in her life in an unexpected place.

When Dani's mother announces she's getting married for the fifth time, Dani's not surprised, just disgusted. She's upset to be shipped off to visit an uncle she's never met, in a remote location in B.C. where he lives in a trailer. But Dani learns many things from Sam, including patience, lack of reliance on material things, and a secret she never expected to know.

As Dani's mood changes from anger to reluctant understanding, we know she's better prepared to reunite with her mother and for the years ahead. Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Helen Norrie is a Winnipeg author and former teacher-librarian. Her column appears on the third weekend of the month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 A1

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