CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 19 . . . . January 20, 2012
The Green Man.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2012.
304 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.
A memory. A memory – and perhaps a warning of things to come. I have something to tell you, O. Something I should have told you some time ago. I warn you, by the end of it you may doubt my sanity – if you don’t already. But I swear every word of it is true.
“When your father first approached me with the idea of your coming to stay for the summer, I delayed a long time before answering him. I was full of doubts. I was still full of doubts when I finally did agree.”
“You see, this year marks an anniversary of sorts – an anniversary of something that happened long ago. I successfully buried the memory of it for many years. I buried it under a mound of books – under a mound of books and poems. And, over time, I tramped the ground down hard over it. So hard that I hoped it would stay buried.”
“But I can feel it coming all the same. Everything I write these days is about it. I’ve removed every calendar in the place, so I wouldn’t constantly be thinking about it, constantly counting down the days.”
So that was why all the calendars had suddenly disappeared, thought O, as she watched her aunt pour more tea and reach for another cigarette. Her stomach was in knots – but, this time, it was not the cigarette smoke. It was something in her aunt’s voice – an undertone of muted terror she had never heard before. Emily lit her cigarette.
“It’s not just houses that can be haunted. People can be haunted too. I am haunted – haunted by something that happened a lifetime ago.”
When Ophelia’s father receives a grant to go to Italy for the summer to do research, they immediately come up with an alternative plan for O who is a fearful flyer. Instead, she will spend the summer with elderly Aunt Emily, her father’s somewhat eccentric older sister who is a poet and the owner of The Green Man, a secondhand bookshop in a sleepy little town. Aunt Emily also recently suffered a heart attack and, despite her insistence that she is fine, O’s father is still worried about her. Having O spend the summer with her seems like the ideal solution for all concerned.
However, when O arrives at her new home-away-from-home, she is more than a little dismayed. The cupboards and refrigerator are practically bare, and both the upstairs apartment that Emily calls home and the tiny bookshop, itself, are ridiculously cluttered and in a bad state of neglect. Once O recovers from her initial surprise, she rolls up her sleeves and sets about trying to help her aunt restore some sense of order to her home and work space. This becomes a more enjoyable task when a mysterious boy who seems to share her burgeoning love of poetry suddenly appears on the scene.
Meanwhile, Emily is being haunted by disquieting dreams, dreams of a magician who puts on a strange but compelling magic show for an audience of eager children. These dreams are forcing Emily to face disturbing memories from her childhood, and to remember that evil still lurks in the world and may assume many different guises. When Emily finally shares her fears with her niece, O isn’t sure what to think. While she finds Emily’s story and her suspicions hard to believe, she can’t bring herself to completely dismiss them. But will she be able to find, and face, the truth in time?
Michael Bedard’s latest literary offering is a companion to his earlier books, Darker Magic and A Painted Devil, as Aunt Emily realizes that the evil magician from her past is due to return. Once again, Bedard provides a quietly compelling and satisfyingly atmospheric tale. With its shifting narrators, the tension builds slowly as readers catch glimpses of Emily’s unsettling dreams, her mounting anxiety and the gradual revelation of her story. Similarly, the aura of menace and mystery deepens as O is drawn into the strange goings-on. The book is a successful and engaging mystery while also offering much more. It is O’s story of her artistic awakening as she opens up to her own writer’s instincts, and it is also a story of malingering evil being vanquished by the forces of the light. It is a subtle and complex tale, filled with magic and mysticism, poets and dreamers, and unbreakable family ties. Those who are familiar with the previous two books will be pleased with this new addition to the saga, but this book can easily be read (and savoured) on its own. While young readers looking for an action-packed story or a more straightforward mystery may find The Green Man to be a challenge, it will linger in the minds of more introspective readers and provide them with a richly rewarding reading experience.
Lisa is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS.
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