________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 17. . . .April 17, 2009.


Blood of the Donnellys.

David McRae.
Toronto, ON: Sandcastle/Dundurn, 2008.
144 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-754-9.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by J. Lynn Fraser.




Canadian history is often misrepresented as boring. It’s not. History is more than memorizing dates, remembering geographical locations, lists of natural resources, and knowing when sections of railways were laid. History is about people.

     David McRae, author of Blood of the Donnellys, taught Canadian history to high school students. The protagonist of McRae’s book is Jason. He is in a transitional age, 15, and he is dealing with teenage angst and anger.

I blinked rapidly and swallowed to clear the lump in my throat. My punishment had finally come. I knew it had to eventually, but I hadn’t expected the emotional reaction I was experiencing.

     Jason lives with his parents and sister, and, in the introductory pages of the book, the reader learns he has been in trouble with the law. Hoping for a fresh start, the family moves to Lucan, ON, to live with family. The same town is close to where the Donnelly family, known as the Bloody Donnellys for their connection to murder and violence, was massacred in 1880.

     Echoing the antics of the Donnellys with a modern spin, Jason falls in with a local gang, and he believes he is seeing a ghost.

A faint glow appeared over the rim of the last stair. I froze, and my ears hummed. The glow grew larger, but softened and faded to reveal a human figure.

     McRae’s book deals with issues of anger, resentment, family, loyalty, and ethics. Through McRae’s use of the paranormal, the gang activities, and actual historical events, the reader watches Jason slowly learn to become a responsible adult.

The violence of the Donnelly years seemed to be coming back. A nauseating feeling flooded my stomach. I had strong suspicions who might be responsible, and I knew I had the power to stop it.

     McRae’s prose and dialogue are clear and straightforward. He has written a story in which a young reader can easily place him or herself. The author teaches his readers about a colourful part of Canadian history by creating roughly parallel events in a contemporary, small town setting, thus allowing the reader to understand to some extent, what the historical events must have been like to experience.

     The protagonist Jason is a young man who will be recognizable to many readers. It is possible that by reading about his feelings and his journey to personal insight that young readers may acquire insight about themselves and people they know.

     Blood of the Donnellys is a solid read with interesting narrative twists for mature young readers.


Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is a freelance editor, author, and writer whose magazine articles appear in national and international publications.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.