Moral issues, suspense, surprise make book a must-read

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TORONTO author Deborah Ellis is best known for her young-adult novels set in developing countries, especially Afghanistan and Malawi, but her latest, True Blue (Pajama Press, 229 pages, $15 paperback), is set close to home, in a small town that could be rural Manitoba.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/09/2011 (4035 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TORONTO author Deborah Ellis is best known for her young-adult novels set in developing countries, especially Afghanistan and Malawi, but her latest, True Blue (Pajama Press, 229 pages, $15 paperback), is set close to home, in a small town that could be rural Manitoba.

High school students Casey and Jess have been best friends for years and are ending summer holidays as counsellors at a nearby children’s camp. On the last day of camp a child who has made their time miserable disappears.

When her body is discovered in the woods, and Casey is arrested for murder Jess has to make a choice. Does she continue to proclaim Casey’s innocence or does she go with the prevailing opinion in the town and at her high school that Casey is guilty?

Ellis makes Jess’s choice more crucial by adding her mother’s unstable mental health, made critical by her obsessive belief in the injustice of Casey’s arrest. But for the first time Jess is feeling part of a group and not an outsider. Can she risk losing her new-found acceptance for a friend who may be guilty?

With important moral issues, gripping suspense and a surprise ending, this is a must-read book for teenagers. Once again Ellis has delved into new territory with impressive results.

— — —

In a new novel he admits is based on his own life, prolific Mississauga author Eric Walters describes how two junior-high students stand up to the school bullies in Ricky (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 236 pages, $10 paperback).

When their biology teacher has his classroom trashed and his pet snake critically wounded, Ricky and Augie, his best friend, decide to take action.

Ricky has a whole zoo in his home, from gerbils to a pet alligator, but even he is worried when he has to transport a two-metre-long boa constrictor. Written for ages 9-12, this novel will appeal to animal lovers. It also sends a strong message about how individuals can make a difference.

— — —

Action-loving readers, especially boys, will enjoy First Descent by Vancouverite Pam Withers (Tundra Books, 262 pages, $20 hardcover). Rex is a 17-year-old high-level kayaker with an obsession to be first to conquer the Furioso River in Colombia, South America. His grandfather challenges him to “finish the job” he was unable to do himself as a young man. What neither of them realize is the extent of guerrilla and paramilitary conflict in the region of the river.

In Colombia, Myriam Calambas is a young indigena (aboriginal) woman who has dreams of escaping her poverty and becoming a journalist to expose the injustice practised on her people. When Rex hires her as a guide he unwittingly becomes involved in the deadly warfare between the military groups, as well as introducing him to a hidden family secret.

This is an action-packed contemporary novel for 12- to 16-year-olds that has real nail-biting suspense. Withers is a former white-water kayak instructor who know her kayaking lore and language. Though some of Rex’s feats seem incredible, they are guaranteed to hold your attention.

— — —

For pre-teens who enjoy decoding secret messages while solving a mystery and doing some cooking on the side, The Case of the Missing Deed by Burnaby, B.C. writer Ellen Schwartz (Tundra, 189 pages, $18 hardcover) fits all requirements.

Five cousins, the oldest 13, arrive on Otter Island off the Vancouver coast to find that their grandmother is in danger of losing her home to a rapacious mining company. She must find the property deed that her husband hid before his death.

The clues he left behind keep the cousins, and the readers, guessing until almost the end. A number of easy recipes intertwined with the text give this series the name the Teaspoon Detectives.

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

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