________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009


Against the Odds.

Marjolijn Hof. Translated by Johanna H. Prins & Johanna W. Prins.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2009.
124 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-950-4 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-0-88899-935-1 (hc.).

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Catherine Howett.

**** /4



My mother had been gone for quite awhile. I turned the radio on again. There was only music. I pushed all the buttons until I found a news station. It had already started. The newsperson was saying, ďThere is concern for his safety.Ē

Now that I was all by myself, it sounded much worse. The words were kind of hanging in the air. I couldnít tell what they meant. It was like everything had to get into my brain through a tiny hole in my head. But after a while I did understand Ė the news was about being afraid. They were afraid something was wrong. And if they were afraid, something must be wrong. I waited for something to happen. Something inside me. But nothing happened. I didnít get scared. I didnít get angry. I felt nothing. And that nothing felt worse...

To many people, Kikiís father is a hero, a selfless humanitarian who works as a doctor in war zones. Her Oma is angry with what she considers his chronic risk taking Ė a selfish need for adventure. Kiki and her mother just want him home and safe from his latest trip. But his telephone calls have stopped, and the aid organization has no word of where he is.

     Kiki is a rather intense 11-year-old who wants her normal life back. She doesnít want to be the object of her friendís pity. She feels powerless in the face of her fatherís decisions and frustrated with the efforts of the adults in her life to share with or shield her from the situation. So she comes up with a rather outrageous idea to balance the odds in favour of her fatherís return.

     This compelling little novel is the English translation of Dutch author Marjolijn Hofís first book for elementary school children, Een kleine kans (a small chance). Originally published in 2006, it won the Golden Owl Juvenile Literature Prize, The Golden Owl Young Readerís Prize and the Golden Slate Pencil in 2007. Translators Johanna H. Prins and Johanna W. Prins allow Hofís spare prose and narrative tempo to shine through beautifully.

     Against the Odds deals with developing morality and the very real feelings of fear, anger and abandonment that come with having a family member in a dangerous environment. Hof sensitively and effectively shows the family tensions that arise without resorting to pathos. The ending is realistic.

     Against the Odds is a relatively fast read, with short sentences and lots of dialogue. The higher level concepts dealt with make this an excellent book for a broad age group. It would be particularly useful as a high interest book for teens. While this book deals with difficult themes, it does so in a sensitive and often humorous way.

Highly Recommended.

Catherine Howett, a Research and Resource Centre Coordinator and advocate for school libraries, lives in Vancouver, BC.

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

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