What if you happen to have the same name as a former Queen of England, who was executed for treason? Could there be a connection between the two of you, even if there are centuries in between?
That's the premise for Toronto author Sue MacLeod's novel Namesake (Pajama Press, 232 pages, $15 paperback). Jane Grey is a modern teenager living in Halifax when she is assigned a project on the Tudor monarchs by her history teacher. She decides to focus on her namesake, Lady Jane Grey.
But when she discovers an old prayer book that has the power to transport her into Tudor time, she learns far more about her namesake than she could have imagined.
MacLeod is a former resident of Halifax and was that city's first poet laureate. Her love of words is shown in the unusual chapter headings such as "Mew: verb: coop up, confine, shut up." She makes us realize the similarity between the two Janes, both 15, both unhappy and both feeling overwhelmed by forces beyond their control.
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Vicki VanSickle is a Toronto writer with three previous children's books to her credit. Her latest young-adult novel, Summer Days, Starry Nights (Scholastic Canada, 219 pages, $9 paperback) is set in an idyllic summer location: Reenie Starr's family resort on a Canadian lake.
Reenie is 12, and her family's summer camp isn't attracting many guests, until her mother, Mimi, decides to invite 17-year-old Gwen to come and give dance lessons. Gwen is the daughter of Mimi's best friend and is a promising ballet dancer. She's also got secrets: she's involved with a notorious rock star.
As Reenie tries to solve both the resort's financial woes and Gwen's romantic problems, she discovers a family secret that has long been buried. VanSickle does a good job of painting the close relationship between Reenie and her father and her troubled feelings for Mimi, her mother. With lots of typical summer scenes (campfires, swimming, summer dances), this is a good preteen read for the beach.
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Smokescreeen (Tundra, 202 pages, $20 hardcover), by Toronto author and lawyer Nancy Hartry, also has a summer setting -- close to home. Seventeen-year-old Kerry from Toronto has signed on as a cottage-development technician north of Kenora, to get away from an overbearing mother and the stress of dance competitions.
She's overwhelmed by her partner, Yvette, a street-savvy, experienced older French girl, by the blackflies, the forest and the job, especially when a forest fire means Kerry and Yvette are forced to work in the kitchen, helping feed 300 hungry firefighters.
Hartry complicates the plot by introducing not only an illegal bear-killing gang and illicit drug imports but a scheme to start forest fires to hide the illegal activity. Kerry becomes involved with a handsome M©tis firefighter while Yvette is smitten by an available pilot.
There is plenty of action and some well-drawn characters, especially Kerry's boss, Harcourt, and Slash, a young man keeping an eye on the girls while he helps in the kitchen.
It's about as far away from Kerry's normal life in urban Toronto as possible. With lots of realistic scenes of firefighting in northern bush country, this could be a favourite read for those who dream of an alternative summer job.
Helen Norrie is a Winnipeg author and former teacher-librarian. Her column appears on the third weekend of the month.