________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 16 . . . . April 3, 2009

cover Nine Doors. (Orca Currents).

Vicki Grant.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
96 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55469-073-2 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55469-074-9 (hc.).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Tara Williston.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


He picked up the camera. “Okay. My turn!” He focused in on a house a few doors down. “Hmmm…I thought this one was empty but I’m pretty sure I just saw some movement. I’m going to give it a try.”

He handed me back the camera. “You ready?” he said.

No, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to play the stupid game anymore. I felt bad for that lady. And, come to think of it, I was also feeling kind of bad for Naked Guy and the guy in the apron too. I wasn’t sure how comical any of them would find our little game.

So why didn’t I just tell Richard, “I quit”?

I was all ready to. I opened my mouth. I took a breath.

…[But] that was the thing about Richard. On one hand, it was like he had some power over me. He could talk me into doing all sorts of things I didn’t want to do. On the other hand, I felt kind of sorry for him, like he was my dopey little brother or something. I had this feeling I was the only friend he had.

Maybe that’s the power he had over me. What could I do?

Vicki Grant has done it again: she’s come up with another great hi-lo teen novel that is almost certain to garner accolades equal to those which her past efforts (all ALA “Quick Picks” books) have earned. Nine Doors, a thriller just like Grant’s previous “Orca Soundings” and “Orca Currents” books, boasts a plot that’s simple yet gripping, pacing that’s tight and rapid-fire, and true-to-life characters that will resonate with readers both young and old.

    Protagonist and narrator Emery is a regular 14-year-old boy, stuck at home in the ’burbs with his mom for the summer and getting pretty darn bored. His narrative voice is matter-of-fact, natural, confiding yet open; we believe Emery’s story and understand just how easily he slides into “this mess,” which is how he describes the events that make up the story of Nine Doors. The instigator of the “mess” is Richard, Emery’s charismatic, yet highly manipulative, classmate who lives nearby. Although Emery readily admits his own part in the trouble the two cause, Richard is clearly the villain of the story, and, as a villain, he is so perfectly captured that I could exactly picture the “wicked smile spread over that angelic face of his” as I read. I think most every teen (and adult too!) knows someone like Richard. The kind of someone who, as Emery puts it, “makes you think things you don’t want to think, do things you don’t want to do. He’s always twisting stuff around in your head. It’s like he Photoshops reality right in front of you and you still get tricked into believing his version’s the real thing.” He’s someone who so gets under your skin that you can end up doing “stuff you’d never do in a million years.”

     The thing that Emery would never have normally done is to start, at Richard’s suggestion, a game of Nicky Nicky Nine Doors: “You know, when you ring someone’s doorbell and then run off before they answer it.” Despite Emery’s gut feeling not to go along with Richard’s scheme – along with his disdain for what he sees as a “pathetic” game for the likes of six year-olds – Emery can’t come up with a counter argument when Richard jabs, “Got anything better to do?”

He had a point. I was sick of riding my bike. The public pool would be crawling with toddlers now, no doubt all peeing their little hearts out. My mother barred me from the house on sunny days because I was playing too many video games. I couldn’t even go to a movie because I’d blown all my money on slushies.

     So, as Emery explains in the prologue to Nine Doors, the combination of boredom and Richard’s persuasiveness lead him to agree to play the silly game, if only to kill some time. However, soon enough Emery realizes that Richard has set him up from the very beginning; it was never just a simple game of Nicky Nicky Nine Doors that he’d wanted. Bit by bit, out come the props and the video camera, and Emery soon finds himself a partner in filming a nastier version of a Candid Camera-type pranks show.

     Before he knows it, the police have been summoned, and while the two pranksters manage to wiggle off the hook fairly easily, Emery officially gets cold feet. By evening of the same day, he has resolved to back out on Richard for good when things take a more frightening turn, one that scares even the unruffle-able Richard and brings the book to its exciting – and entirely unexpected – climax.

     On top of its absorbing storyline and sharply-drawn main characters who undergo believable changes, Nine Doors even has a splash of romance thrown in – truly a fantastic all-round read that is a sure bet for grabbing the interest of reluctant readers.

     My one criticism of Grant’s latest short novel is the exceeding ease with which the final conflict is resolved: the fright that Emery and Richard receive the night of their continuing film escapade comes from Emery’s mysterious neighbour, Marjorie, an older woman whom Emery believes is ill. “There’s something the matter with her. She never comes out of the house.” Marjorie turns out to be a severe agoraphobe who has not left her home in years. She has been observing Richard and Emery’s antics from her window all day and growing increasingly frantic, certain that they would soon be coming to her house and she would be forced to go outside. In a panic, she sneaks up on each boy from behind, strikes him over the head, and drags him into her garage where she locks them in. Emery’s love interest, Bebi, happens along and gets the same treatment, leaving all three teens scared witless in a darkened garage together. Marjorie immediately regrets her actions but is at a loss as to how to get out of this sticky situation. The kids come to and soon engage in a discussion with Marjorie through the locked door leading from her garage into her home. Explanations and apologies are exchanged, and just then the police show up, having been alerted to a missing teenage girl, thanks to Bebi’s overprotective father. Marjorie then goes from total panic at the thought of being confronted by the police to suddenly, miraculously, stepping forward with clever excuses for the officers and the request that they take her to the hospital, since “it’s about time [she] saw someone about [her] condition.” Escorted by the two police officers, Marjorie then calmly departs, with a smile for Emery and Richard and the words, “I certainly hope I’ll bump into you in the neighbourhood some time soon.” Considering the woman’s extremely agitated state just moments before and the fact that her condition is so severe that she has not darkened her own doorway in years, this quick and cheerful turnabout seems more than a little unrealistic. However, it certainly ends the novel on a positive note while leaving all the story’s characters with an experience from which they will have learned some important lessons!


Tara Williston is a Children’s Librarian living and working in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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