________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 20 . . . . June 10, 2005


From Charlie's Point of View: A Mystery.

Richard Scrimger.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2005.
278 pp., pbk., $14.99.
ISBN 0-88776-679-X.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Lori Walker.

*** /4


"Hey there." He can hear the smile in Bernadette's voice.

"Hey yourself." Charlie strikes a man-of-adventure pose.

"So, where do you want to go today?"

"Did somebody say 'seventh grade'?"

He chuckles. "There's a little seventh grade in everyone. Say, do you mind going on the bus by ourselves? Dad's running late."

"Can do."

Now Charlie smiles. Can do is one of Bernadette's favorite phrases. She is so competent. Charlie can't remember ever hearing her ask for help.

For her part, Bernadette is pleased - almost relieved - to be in charge. She'd rather not have to depend on someone else. Anyone else.

Charlie's parents are nice, but...well, they're parents. How far can you really trust them?

Charlie and Bernadette are two newly minted middle graders who need each other. Bernadette's home life leaves much to be desired. Her mom's got substance abuse problems and a fixation on murdering Bernadette's absent dad with her bare hands. Charlie offers some sense of purpose and connectedness. He's funny, good looking, has an uncanny sense of what time it is, makes good folded napkin cranes and is "stone blind, bottom-of-a-midnight-well blind." Bernadette is an exceptional guide-friend.

     Joined by Lewis Ellief, a quirky insecure tag-along, and Gideon, a super-confident classmate that appears in the nick of time (along with a celestial soundtrack) to avert disaster, the kids bravely face the challenges of middle school: bullies, odd-ball teachers, dog attacks, wild bus rides, sneering peers, and mind-bending assignments. And if weren't enough, Charlie's dad has been charged with a string of cash-machine robberies, and the friends set out to discover the real culprit.

     Richard Scrimger constructs a detailed and action-packed middle school experience for the three characters, with plenty of humour and pathos. Following in the footsteps of Alan Dingwall, the protagonist from Scrimger's The Nose From Jupiter, Charlie, Bernadette, and Lewis are remarkably well adjusted, nice kids considering the truly awful adults in their lives, including parents who are either neglectful and verbally abusive or Stepford style sweet. How they turned out OK may be the real mystery in this book, as clues to solving the mystery of the stocking clad cash-machine bandit seem to fall in their laps; a bit of a stretch considering the setting is a big city, presumably Toronto.

     But this aspect will probably not bother younger readers who will enjoy Scrimger's spirited characters, trademark one-liners, and exploration of what it's like to be blind. As a book directed at young adults, who are better equipped to deal with the lack of resolution around the characters' problematic relationships with their parents, it may lack the sophistication they are used to, not to mention the older characters they usually demand.


Lori Walker is completing a Masters in Children's Literature at UBC.

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

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