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



Norah McClintock.
Victoria, BC: Orca. 2009.
165 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-152-4.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Darleen Golke.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



My heart hammered in my chest. I reached for the blanket, pulled it out and folded it into the plastic.

I started to tie up my small bundle, but there was something I needed to know first, I pulled off my jacket.

Something fell to the ground and sparkled in the morning sun.

I bent down. It was a length of gold chain. Where had that come from?

Then I remembered. When I’d been grabbed from behind, I had kicked and struggled. When I couldn’t pry his arm off my neck, I had reached behind me to try to claw at him, anything to make him let me go. My fingers had closed around something –– the chain –– and I’d pulled hard. The two end links of the piece of chain on the ground were broken. I must have snapped the chain when I pulled on it. But how had it gotten into my jacket? I checked inside. There was a small snag in the jacket lining. The chain must have fallen down inside the back of the jacket and got caught there somehow. I picked it up and tucked it in my jeans pocket. Maybe it would help the police find my kidnapper –– assuming I ever made it out of these woods.

I peeled off my T-shirt and did what I’d set out to do: I took a good look at my arm. It wasn’t easy to spot, but finally I found it –– a tiny puncture mark. I was right. I had been jabbed in the arm with a needle. I was already shivering in the crisp morning air, but the thought that someone had drugged me sent a chill deep into my bones.

When her dad accepted a job at a nuclear plant four years earlier, Stephanie Rawls, now 14, reluctantly moved from the city and learned to adjust to small town life. Sadly, her father died in an auto accident a year-and-a-half ago, and Steph has been grieving since. Mom has a new boyfriend, Gregg, who arrived on the scene while Steph spent three months up north getting to know her paternal grandfather. Steph resents Gregg’s presence in their lives and admits to being angry with her mother. To add to her frustration, “For the past two months, everyone in every small town up here had been freaking out because of the two girls who had disappeared,” one found “not alive,” the other still missing. Parents cautioned their daughters to take extra precautions, but Steph feels reasonably safe until the Saturday evening she is “halfway across a field” on her way home from a shopping trip “when someone grab[s her] from behind.” The assailant chokes her and jabs her with a needle. Steph awakens groggily in a small, grimy cabin, wrists behind her back hogtied to her bound ankles.

     Getting the panic under control, Steph resolves to fight back and manages to break free of the ropes, gathers what meager supplies she finds in the cabin, and flees the scene, fearful that the kidnapper might return at any moment. Her grandfather’s wilderness survival lessons had taught her the importance of orientation before setting out through the densely wooded terrain toward a distant glow. She finds shelter for the night and the next morning, hungry and thirsty, takes stock of her situation. While checking her arm for the puncture mark, she finds a length of broken gold chain caught in her jacket - evidence. Using the sun as a compass, Steph keeps moving, looking for food and water, with limited success. Morning dew slakes her thirst, and wilderness spaghetti, the inner bark of trees, provides some nourishment. However, before long she resorts to eating grubs to keep up her strength. A rain storm solves her water needs but leaves her cold, wet, and feverish.

     Losing a day to illness complicates her escape, but not as much as falling into a hole. “Pain ripped through my right ankle and burned up my leg.” She uses a sturdy branch as a crutch to help her stumble along painfully until collapsing for the night. Believing the situation could not possibly get worse, she comes face to face with a black bear, backs away, stumbles, falls, yelps, and prepares to be demolished by the bear barrelling toward her. Three sharp explosions: a “tall and gaunt” scruffy-looking man despatches the beast, but Steph cowers, thinking him the kidnapper. Once they get things sorted out, Zeke takes her to the home of a police officer, Andruksen, who recognizes Steph’s name as a missing person and interviews her. Neither he nor the detective who interrogates her later appear to believe in her kidnapping; they believe she ran away from home because of a fight with her mother and spent the days between Saturday and Friday wandering in the woods. However, Andruksen does advise her not to mention the gold chain to anyone.

     Reunited with Mom, even with Gregg’s new status as fiancé, Steph gladly goes home, but she refuses to answer Gregg’s annoying questions about her kidnapping. Mom arranges a mother daughter time for them, but Gregg’s irritating presence spoils their intimacy. Acting on a hunch, that night Steph sneaks a look at Gregg’s run book, a record of business trips, and discovers his run dates coincide with the dates of the kidnappings. She contacts Andruksen, and the police arrive the next morning, link Gregg to the gold chain, and take him in for questioning. To her mom’s horror, Gregg confesses to kidnapping Steph just to get rid of her because he wanted her mom “for himself. He said they had plans together.” Gregg confesses to prove he is not the serial kidnapper, merely a copycat; his modus operandi differs in that the other victims had been chained and killed, not roped and drugged. Back home with Mom, Steph’s lingering doubts about her mom’s involvement dissipate as she realizes Mom “had no idea what Gregg was up to.”

    Award-winning novelist McClintock adds another well-paced tale for adolescent readers to her impressive collection. The first person narrative allows the reader to share Steph’s emotions as she faces challenges and demonstrates remarkable resolve and competence. Although the secondary characters tend to be one dimensional and formulaic, they appropriately advance the plot. McClintock provides specific and detailed description of the survival techniques Steph practices on her flight through the woods, ranging from her creating a plan, assembling a kit of supplies, finding directions without a compass, navigating, foraging for food and water, to her selecting appropriate shelter sites. Partly a mystery and partly a manual on wilderness survival, the action-driven tale manages to incorporate problems not uncommon to teens - moving to a new town and adjusting, losing a parent, conflict with the surviving parent and her new partner, self-doubt, and angst. A story about an engaging and smart protagonist facing seemingly insurmountable odds and surviving should appeal to early teen readers accustomed to tidy television-style adventures neatly packaged and resolved.

Highly Recommended.

A former high school teacher-librarian, Darleen Golke writes from her home in Abbotsford, BC.

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

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