________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 20 . . . . May 29, 2009

cover Blue Mountain Trouble.

Martin Mordecai.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2009.
341 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-04156-0.

Subject Headings:
Brothers and sisters-Fiction.
Family life-Jamaica-Fiction.
Mountain life-Jamaica-Fiction.

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Kay Weisman.

*** /4


One moment there was just the clouds and the rocks and the bush, the next moment it was there. Huge, its dark head with grandpa beard unfurling a pair of horns like Jericho trumpets.

There, floating in the path, in a pool of brightness from an unseen sun.

The twins could only see a huge head, with a billowing beard and horns like they had never before seen, on a goat or any other creature. It was like a mask, of a size that would’ve had a body as big as a minibus carrying it. Unsupported, it floated next to a big round rock?just where they would walk. The twins stopped dead. There was no way around it. The goat’s eyes pinned them, flashing dark fire. The eyes seemed sightless, but seeing everything too, down into the very darkest corners of their terror.

For a second or two, all was still: the goat-mask, the twins, even the clouds. They saw something like teeth. The goat tossed its head.

Then the cloud shifted and it wasn’t there anymore. As effortlessly as it had appeared, made of cloud but very real, it was gone.

Eleven-year-old twins Pollyread and Jackson live with their parents high in the mountains of Jamaica. Life is not easy for the Gilmore family: Papa ekes out a subsistence living farming his “ground”; Mama has taken to her bed with a mysterious illness; the twins worry about the results of the common entrance exam which will determine what kind of schooling they are allowed to pursue next year; and Jammy, a local troublemaker, has returned to Top Valley, intent on making trouble for the Gilmores.

    Pollyread and Jackson’s world is hardscrabble but realistic, making the magical appearance of the goat frightening at first. It appears and disappears without warning, and only the twins are able to see it. Gradually, they realize that the goat is there to protect them?from a disastrous landslide, lighting the way home when they are travelling after dark, and preventing an angry intruder from doing harm to the family.

    The problem of Jammy is somewhat more difficult to handle. He returns to their village, becoming a squatter on Papa’s land, intent on raising a crop the twins don’t recognize. Papa is angry about his presence but strangely unwilling to involve the police in the matter, leading the twins to conclude that they must take matters into their own hands. After Jammy accosts the twins on their way to school, they learn that the plant Jammy is growing is actually coca? used to make cocaine? and that the police must become involved.

    The author, born and raised Jamaica, has peopled his first novel with intriguing characters. Pollyread is as smart as a whip (class valedictorian), but her sharp tongue often gets her into trouble. Jackson is the quieter of the two? easygoing and sweet tempered?but determined all the same. Minor characters are also vividly drawn, making for an engaging cast. The mystery unfolds at a steady pace, and Mordecai’s writing teems with local colour and allusions to ancient mythology, giving readers a sense of the rhythms and flavour of island life. The use of dialect adds to the authenticity, although a glossary would have been helpful.

    Young readers will no doubt be surprised by some of the realities of village life: carrying water in a bucket from a community standpipe; the casual acceptance of young unmarried girls having babies; and the pervasive use of ganja. Still, this is a fascinating look at a unique culture that should appeal to fans of James Berry’s novels such as Ajeemah and His Son (HarperCollins,1992) or Deborah Ellis’s Cocalero novels, I Am a Taxi (Groundwood, 2006) and The Sacred Leaf (Groundwood, 2007).


Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

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

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