________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 13. . . .November 27, 2009.


Second Sight.

Gary Blackwood.
New York, NY: Speak (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2005.
279 pp., pbk., $8.99.
ISBN 978-0-14-240747-9.

Subject Headings:
Washington (D.C.)-History-Civil War, 1861-1865-Juvenile fiction.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865-Assassination-Juvenile Fiction.
United States-History-Civil War-1861-1865-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Kay Weisman.





Come with me.

Why do you hesitate? Perhaps you’re wondering whether you can trust me. I understand. We will be heading into unfamiliar territory, full of unaccustomed and sometimes unpleasant sights and sounds. You may find it all a bit daunting and disorienting, a bit dirty, even dangerous.

But that’s why I’m here. Think of me as a guide, an interpreter. Though I may take a wrong turn now and again or introduce you to some characters of questionable nature, you can rely on me, I assure you. I’ve done this before.

There are a few rare individuals in the world who are blessed (or cursed) with the ability to look into the future, an ability known as precognition, or second sight. I am not one of them. The best I can offer you is a sort of retrocognition——the ability to look into the past. None of what you’ll see is real, of course. It is only an illusion, a novelist’s trick.

In 1864, teenager Joseph Ehrlich lives with his parents in a Washington, DC, boarding house inhabited by an assortment of performers. Joseph’s mother has withdrawn from the world since the accidental death of her daughter, Margaretta; Joseph and his father (a former stage actor whose now raspy voice prevents him from procuring coveted roles) put together a mind-reading act that feeds off the country’s fascination with clairvoyance. The act is a success (their illusion relies on a series of elaborate verbal codes described in the text), and Joseph is thrilled by the attention he garners. Then he meets Cassandra, a young orphan who looks exactly like his dead sister and who possesses genuine precognitive powers. When Cassandra begins sharing her alarming visions of a plot to kidnap or assassinate President Lincoln, the two must work together to try and prevent this tragedy, in such a way that the authorities won’t think they are part of the conspiracy.

     Blackwood, the author of The Shakespeare Stealer and its sequels, turns his attentions here to American history, weaving a cast of actual and imagined people and events into this present tense narrative of political intrigue. President Lincoln, his wife, and John Wilkes Booth appear throughout the novel, along with several other minor conspiracy figures. The use of the omniscient narrator, while occasionally condescending (“But the people of 1865 know nothing of that, and we will not tell them. Let them enjoy their brief, ignorant bliss.”), does help to focus readers on the salient details of the story. The well-paced narrative leads toward a surprising ending that readers will enjoy. Fans of this story will also want to read James Cross Giblin’s Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth (2005), which tells the real story of this event.


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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