________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 12. . . .November 20, 2009


Medina Hill.

Trilby Kent.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2009.
170 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-888-0.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Laura Dunford.

** /4



It was some kind of magic, that book. It made me feel that anything was possible –– that the world was so much bigger than a musty classroom or a damp house in a dirt-poor part of London. I didn’t feel trapped inside myself anymore. Behind those green covers, I felt safe.

It is 1935 in London, England, and 11-year-old Dominic and his eight-year-old sister, Marlo, are being shipped off to stay with their Uncle Roo and his band of eccentric tenants at his farm in Cornwall. Dominic’s father has lost his job, his mother is getting sicker every day, and his sister refuses to pull her nose out of a cookbook filled with foods they could never afford. Yet, for Dominic, home is the only place he feels safe enough to speak. Now he is forced to live amongst strangers. Feeling out of place, Dominic finds solace in an adventure book about Lawrence of Arabia, identifying with the Colonel’s desire to leave his world behind. When Dominic befriends Sancha, a boyish one-legged gypsy girl, he begins to envision himself as the great Lawrence, ready to lead the gypsies to victory over the prejudiced townspeople.

     Written in the first person, Medina Hill treats its readers to a believable 11-year-old Dominic and bone fide 1930s dialect. Kent has a talent for establishing setting and intertwining it with the atmosphere of the narrative, and her writing tends to shine when she turns to dark and mysterious details. She has also created a cast of intriguing side characters. Unfortunately, while Dominic is a well-written young protagonist, the development of these characters is largely neglected. Marlo, one of the more detailed side characters is, regrettably, unrealistic. For instance, a man on the brink of death uses his last moments to implore the eight-year-old to win the town’s baking competition, and, against a group of experienced adult competitors, she succeeds.

     The storyline tends to meander, lingering on excessive details and events that, while initially appearing significant, are later rendered inconsequential. The most notable instance of this is when Dominic and Sancha are able to purchase the land at Medina Hill, thereby preventing the townspeople from forcing the gypsies out of town and, as a result, resolving the narrative’s central conflict. Soon after, the gypsies decide to abandon the site and head to France. The townspeople remain prejudiced, and the reader is left with the foreboding possibility that Sancha and her family may become victims of the Holocaust. Yet, Kent still attempts to conclude the book with on an optimistic note as Dominic watches the gypsies drive away and revels in his newly uninhibited speech.

     Filled with great moments of adventure and mystery, and insight into the historical context, Medina Hill is an enjoyable historical children’s novel. Unfortunately, the neglected development of intriguing side characters and an unbalanced plot subtract from an otherwise enjoyable reading experience.


Laura Dunford is a student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

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

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