Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Racial tension makes novel fascinating
South Africa in 1969 seethed with racial tensions, violence and desperation. Shortly before Nelson Mandella's release from prison, with a new president at the helm, security police were actively persecuting activists and targeting blacks without cause.
This is the setting for Ottawa writer Brenda Hammond's young adult novel Cape Town (326 pages, $15 paperback) from Winnipeg-based Great Plains Publications. In it she draws on her own background as a native of South Africa and also as a ballet student in London.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Renee Pretorius, who has grown up on an isolated farm a day's journey from Cape Town. From a conservative Afrikaans family, she has been brought up to believe Communists are the ultimate evil, that the Afrikaans have a God-given right to rule, and that races must never mix.
Arriving to study ballet at the University of Cape Town, she is shocked by the unrest on the streets and by the diversity of opinions, especially when she is attracted to a student activist.
While Hammond's prose is occasionally too flowery -- "drinking greedily from the cup of passion" for example -- the tension generated by Renee's conflict between her background and the injustices she sees in Cape Town, plus the actual crises that erupt from the racial inequalities, make this a fascinating novel.
Lovers of ballet will also find the scenes in the ballet school and on the performance stage realistically satisfying.
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In 2010 Great Plains released Toronto author Nelsa Roberto's entertaining first young-adult novel, Illegally Blonde. Now, in The Break (Great Plains, 204 pages, $15 paperback), Roberto has written a more serious novel on a more serious subject: a teen who refuses to accept that her beloved grandmother is suffering from dementia. It is also a novel about guilt and the devastating effects of regret.
Abby Lambert is furious with her mother, who has accepted a position with Doctors Without Borders for the very week of spring break, when Abby has planned to join a ski trip. Abby is left to look after her grandmother, whom she soon realizes may be having some severe problems. Her Nonna also wants to visit the Sunny Haven home, which Abby avoids at all costs.
Abby's life becomes more complicated when she gets to know a boy whom she has always thought of as arrogant and unfriendly -- until she sees a sensitive side of him as he works with seniors at the nursing home.
Abby must face unwanted truths and make important decisions. This is a realistic novel with a dash of romance that teens will find appealing.
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Written for the eight to 12 crowd, Neil Flambé and the Crusader's Curse (Simon and Schuster, 304 pages, $15 paperback) is another rollicking adventure featuring the 15-year-old super-chef.
Toronto author Kevin Sylvester has already used this eccentric and egotistical culinary genius in two previous novels (Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders and Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction) along with dreadful puns ("gym nauseam," "siege the day," "knights tempura") and unlikely plots.
Here Neil battles not just for the reputation of his restaurant, but to overcome a 900-year-old curse on his family. His battle to break the curse takes Neil to Paris and a confrontation with the head of Deep Blue Cheese (is that Cordon Bleu perhaps?)
A spoof on the recent popularity of celebrity cooking shows, this will cause chuckles and appreciative giggles from the junior crowd.
Winnipegger Helen Norrie is a former teacher-librarian. Her column runs on the third weekend of the month.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 J9
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