________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover Spiral. (Orca Soundings).

K.L. Denman.
Victoria, BC: Orca Books, 2008.
104 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-930-3 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55143-932-7 (hc.).

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Karen Rankin.

***½ /4


They send me to rehab. I'm supposed to learn how to live my life in a wheelchair. Right. I can live like this? I go along with their routine. They teach me exercises, proper nutrition, how to keep my butt from getting bedsores. Wow. So very cool.

When my boyfriend, Todd, comes by, I dump him. I say, "You know, Todd, I never realized what a bore you are. I mean, now that all we can do is sit around and talk, I've found out you're pretty stupid."

Todd's face goes red. Tears waver in his blue eyes. He puts a hand on my knee, which I can't feel, and says, "Abby. Come on. Don't be like this. Please."

My lips curl into a sneer. "Don't be like this? See, that's what I'm talking about, Todd. This is who I am now, and I can't stand you anymore. Don't you get it? I've changed." I take a breath and add, "Besides, I've met someone else."

"No way!" he sputters. "Who? Where?"

"What, you don't believe me? There are guys in here, Todd. And this one, his name is Jim. He's so sweet and funny and smart." I can't look at Todd when I say this. Jim is the biggest jerk I've ever met. He's the sort of person who laughs when people fall out of wheelchairs.

Todd is silent for a while. Finally, he says, "Abby, you're just doing this because you think I shouldn't be stuck with someone who's... hurt."

He is so right and he's never going to know that, not if I can help it.


When 15-year-old Abby is asked to change an inaccessible light bulb at her part-time job, she breaks her back and is paralyzed from the waist down. As her friends come to visit, Abby cuts them lose, as per the scene in the excerpt above. The only person she cannot deceive with her cruel remarks is her oldest and closest friend, Lily. At rehab, Abby meets Jim. At first, they stay in touch via the Internet when they are both sent home. Though they don't have much in common, Abby doesn't mind Jim's company because she believes that "at least, he [is] honest." If Abby tells him she hates her new life, Jim agrees. Abby enjoys visits with Lily but has no interest in going back to school or going out in general. She enjoys role-playing games on the computer because "in that little world on the screen, I'm not me." One day, Jim comes by for a visit. He tells Abby that he uses cocaine and offers her a "toot." Against her better judgement, Abby decides to go for it. Within weeks, she's hooked. When she's not high, she feels "like absolute crap."

     One day, her little brother catches her snorting cocaine and tells their parents. Her parents send Abby to Spiral, an isolated treatment centre with a small but caring staff and a riding stable. After going through withdrawal, Abby is nursed back to emotional health with the special help of Charlie, a "teacher" horse. By the end of her six-month stay at Spiral, Abby has learned that she can live a relatively 'normal' life. More importantly, through her on-going association with Spiral — particularly, Charlie — Abby gains a true sense of self. She learns that she "doesn't need perfection. [She] just needs to stay in the centre."

     Denman's Spiral is an excellent addition to Orca's high interest, low vocabulary "Soundings" series. Abby is a well-drawn and believable character. Her drive and ambition turn to self-loathing after the accident. At Spiral, she is drawn out of herself. She learns — amongst other things — to acknowledge her changes, to find courage, and to live in the present. Secondary and peripheral characters are simply but convincingly drawn. The story gets off to a quick and engaging start. Shortly after Abby breaks her back, there is a brief but informative discussion on the exploitation of young workers by employers — a good "heads up" for young readers. When Abby goes to Spiral, the book gains in depth with emotions that ring true and insights that will help all teens struggling with feelings of inadequacy. The only part of the book that jarred occurred when Denman described Abby's moving from her wheelchair onto the horse's back. Other than this unconvincing account, Spiral was a realistic and thoroughly gripping read.

Highly Recommended.

Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer.

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

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