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Kenneth Oppel.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 1992.
170pp., paper, $4.95.
ISBN 155074-092-X. cloth, $14.95. ISBN 1-55074-112-8. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Science fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14

Reviewed by Kay Kerman.

Volume 20 Number 6
1992 November

Kenneth Oppel writes about the City program that was designed to clean up the water in Watertown. The City introduced a pollution-eating micro-organism into the lake, but it mutated and the water was further contaminated. People who drank from the contaminated water began to show unusual powers of strength and heightened senses. Soon after they drank too much of the water, the "waterdrinkers" began to disappear.

When this book begins, Paul has received a rather desperate phone call from his younger brother Sam. Sam quickly explains that he is in Watertown and has found something unusual in the water samples. He explains that no one else knows about it and he has gone to Watertown by himself to find out more. Obviously something has gone wrong. Sam sounds scared and wants Paul to come and help him.

In a desperate attempt to find his brother, Paul goes to Watertown and in his search he meets Monica, a sixteen-year-old girl who lives on the margins of society with her brother Armitage. We later discover that the mother of these two characters was a waterdrinker and as a result, these two children with mutated genes become outcasts.

As they become more involved in helping Paul search for his brother Sam, Monica becomes desperate to find her mother. Both paths seem to lead to the same place, the "Rat Castle," where the water was the strongest, the most potent. It is then that Paul realizes that his brother, who had an illness that always left him weak and ill, never able to take care of or defend himself, was experimenting, using himself as a subject. He was drinking the dead water to strengthen himself and record his findings. He was trying to make the perfect man, like Leonardo da Vinci.

This young adult fiction is a complex exploration of the adolescent experience. It's a novel that explores the high emotional stakes in close friendships: the vulnerability, the potential for hurt, guilt, betrayal and loss. Dead Water Zone is compelling, not because of the twists and turns of the mystery, but because of the characters' insights and journeys to self-awareness. The ending of this novel is not cut and dried, nor is it neatly resolved. The end is the beginning of a new story, the way it is in all good books.

Dead Water Zone is a gripping fantasy that projects our present-day environmental and social problems into the possibility of a nightmarish future.

Kay Kerman teaches a combined Kindergarten and Grade 1 class at Chelsea Elementary School in Chelsea, PQ.
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