Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Start of Fergus trilogy an action-packed plot

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Winnipegger Maureen Fergus's previous books for young people have included Ortega and Exploits of a Reluctant (but Extremely Goodlooking) Hero. Her ability to write humour as well as her love of unusual plots are both demonstrated in her latest novel, The Gypsy King (Razorbill/Penguin, 272 pages, $20 hardcover).

Billed as the first in a three-part series, The Gypsy King is reminiscent of both a Harlequin novel and a Gilbert and Sullivan plot. Sixteen-year-old Persephone is released from serving a brutal and predatory owner when she is bought by a handsome chicken thief whom she suspects is not what he seems.

In an action-packed plot featuring with an evil regent, a promising boy-king, birth secrets and noble and good-looking Gypsies, she moves from rags to riches with a mixture of luck and gumption.

Is she the answer to an ancient Gypsy prophecy about a king who will unite all the tribes? Will she help rediscover a miraculous lake that will cure all illness? Readers 12 and up may be anxious to find the answers to these questions.

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Veteran Winnipeg author Carol Matas has set her latest novel, Pieces of the Past: the Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz (Scholastic Canada, 155 pages, $17 hardcover) in Winnipeg in 1948. One of the long-running Dear Canada series, it is aimed at eight- to 12-year-olds.

Rose is a Holocaust survivor who has arrived in Winnipeg along with a group of orphans after her family has been killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. After two unfortunate placements, she is sent to live with Saul and Rita and their daughter Terry. Saul, a psychiatrist, suggests Rose write down her memories of the war. "Sometimes you have to remember," he said, "before you can move ahead with your life."

Chapters of the book move back and forth between Winnipeg in 1948 and Rose's heart-breaking journal entries of what happened to her family between 1939 and 1944.

Rose is only five when her father is killed. After her sister disappears and her brother leaves to join the resistance movement, Rose and her mother flee to the countryside, hiding in homes, cupboards and underground hideouts as they seek safety.

Matas, who has written several other YA novels about Jews in the war, does a good job of maintaining suspense, even though we know the tragic outcome. By setting the rest of Pieces of the Past after the war, we realize how difficult it was for the Jewish war orphans to forget their past and fit into Canadian society.

Matas has written more than 40 books for young people and one, When I Die, soon to be released for adults.

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As a former teacher, Mississauga, Ont., author Eric Walters understands the passions and frustrations of teenagers, as he has demonstrated in over 60 novels. In his latest release, Power Play (HarperCollins, 217 pages, $15 paperback), he tackles a subject that is frequently hidden: sexual abuse in sports.

Cody is an aspiring 15-year-old hockey player when he is noticed by a scout for a Junior A team. The scout, who is also a coach, encourages him to try for a spot on the Watertown Warriors, far from Cody's hometown.

With a poor relationship with his alcoholic father, Cody is eager to make the move, but unprepared for the consequences, or for the coach's real interests.

Walters treats his subject carefully and there are no graphic descriptions of abuse, but Cody's anguish, shame and pain are clearly described. With an afterword by former hockey star Sheldon Kennedy, this could be an important story for young athletes ages 12- 17.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 J9

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