________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 12 . . . .February 18, 2005


Smoke and Mirrors.

Lesley Choyce.
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk/Dundurn Press, 2004.
218 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 1-55002-534-1.

Subject Headings:
Imaginary companions-Juvenile fiction.
Spirits-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Ruth Latta.

**** /4



The mind is a kind of immense dark castle with many, many rooms where most of them remain locked...

The skateboard near-death head injury had supposedly severed some of the connective tissue between the left hemisphere and right hemisphere of my brain... The doctors all agreed I could not have my two hemispheres stitched back together. There was no quick fix, no easy repair.


So says Simon, the 16-year-old protagonist and first person narrator of Smoke and Mirrors, as he discusses the accident that left holes in his short term memory. But Simon, though brilliant, was always a little odd because his mother, when pregnant, mistakenly took two conflicting prescriptions from two different doctors. Perpetually on the fringes, friendless since his friend Ozzie moved to the seashore, Simon lives in his imagination and his reading on metaphysical subjects.

     Then, in history class, a new girl named Andrea whispers to Simon exactly what the teacher says two minutes later. She can read minds. When Simon wonders aloud to her if he is having some kind of "mental episode" because he's so stressed about his "freaking life," Andrea says that she has come to help him.

     Is she an angel? A figment of his imagination? A ghost?

     The supernatural/paranormal, once confined to genre works, is becoming a standard element in film, television drama and mainstream fiction. Author Lesley Choyce brings together a smorgasbord of the unusual, including crop circles, witchcraft in Macbeth, levitation, out-of-body experiences, and the Zen experience of satori (a moment of transcendence, awe and well-being). Because of Simon's interest in the unexplained, these references are plausible and convincing, suggesting to the reader that, to paraphrase Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamed of in our philosophy.

     Thanks to Andrea's friendship, Simon is better able to cope with his ambitious parents' quarrels. Andrea "tweaks" the mind of a girl Simon likes to make her ask him for help with a term paper on the Druids. But Andrea flatly refuses to discuss her past. Her sudden appearances and fade-outs jar Simon, who then consults Lydia, the town psychic. She advises him to worry less about what Andrea is and to stay focused on "who" she is.

     In hospital, Simon's consciousness moved to a heavenly world of safety and happiness that involved a beach. One of his unfulfilled hopes is that his dad will take him to see his friend, Ozzie, at the ocean. Two-thirds of the way through the novel, Simon learns something devastating about Ozzie. Still reeling from that shock, he comes upon an old newspaper article about a girl from a neighboring community who is a coma and on life support. Drawn to the article, he investigates and discovers that the girl is Andrea. Author Choyce has written an underdog story with a twist. The Cinder-fella must rescue the fairy godmother. Andrea's spirit leaves her sleeping body to come to Simon one last time. She tells him she is "leaving."

     Encouraged by Lydia, Simon visits the hospital, talks to her parents, seizes the comatose girl by the wrists and offers to go with her. In doing so, he brings her out of her coma. His reward: a restored Andrea who remembers nothing about him when he visits her at her school.

     After wakening the sleeping beauty, Simon feels "more normal," and yet the loss of his former dreamy state, attuned to a different drum, is a "kind of death"—a permanent locking of many of those closed rooms in the dark castle of the mind. The ending, involving a beach and a reunion, is happy, yet haunting. Choyce, former publisher of Pottersfield Press and successful author, has skillfully written a spiritual work. This reader is still brooding over the ending and wondering about the dedication.

Highly Recommended.

Ruth Latta of Ottawa, ON, is a teacher/writer/editor. Her mystery novel, Tea With Delilah, was published in November 2004 by Baico Publishing of Gatineau, PQ.

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

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