________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005


After Sylvia.

Alan Cumyn.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2004.
200 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88899-646-2 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-612-8 (cl.).

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

*** /4



Owen didn't feel like the king of anything. He tried to think of what he was good at. Andy could conjure adventures out of air and Leonard was smarter than almost any kid his age, but Owen felt like he had no special skill. And the more he thought about it the less comfortable he felt, as if the walls of the kitchen itself were leaning in on him and either he had to grow this instant or he'd be squeezed to death. All through his body he felt an aching wave of nervousness that almost made his skin itch.

And so, on the spur of the moment and before Horace could crack the first shell, Owen stood up and said that he wanted to cook his own egg.


In this follow-up to his charming, oft-times hilarious first novel for young readers, The Secret Life of Owen Skye, Alan Cumyn chronicles the further adventures of Owen Skye. The story begins on the eve of the first day of a new school year. Owen and his two brothers try to behave and go to sleep. However, a crystal radio set (the very one which they had last used to intercept alien messages) proves to be an irresistible temptation to Owen. This time, the crystal radio fills their bedroom with birdcalls, birdcalls which Owen recognizes as belonging to their Uncle Lorne. The thrill of hearing their uncle on the radio is short-lived, unfortunately, when their mother trips over the wires and brings a lamp crashing, causing the room suddenly to become filled with smoke, sparks and live electrical wires. And so begins this second saga of the ordinary, and slightly less than ordinary, drama of Owen's young life.

     While he is quietly forlorn about the fact that Sylvia Tull, the object of his tentative affections, has moved away to nearby Elgin, Owen still manages to find lots of unexpected events to occupy his days—like learning to cook his own egg. And he acquires a new dog, Sylvester, when the exuberant pup follows him to school one day and is then harshly chased away by the principal. Owen is nominated for class president, and, with the help of his family, he prepares his campaign speech. He goes door-to-door selling tractor calendars to earn money for a class trip to Japan, and he practices the loon calls that his Uncle Lorne teaches him, and he devotes himself tirelessly to trying to find Sylvester's lost special rock. And...he has a birthday party. A birthday party to which he invites Sylvia.

     While this book generally lacks the laugh-out-loud quality of its predecessor, it displays the same whimsy and gentle charm to endear it to readers. Owen is still a somewhat dreamy but likeable lad, and the supporting characters are similarly well-realized. The plot is perhaps a little slow and uneventful for more action-minded young readers who will miss the more outrageous antics of Cumyn's first book about Owen. However, more introspective readers will still find much in this book to recommend itself to them. As an adult reader, I delighted in Cumyn's delightful turns of phrase, his lovely descriptions of simple, ordinary things and the way in which he so perfectly captures the rhythms of Owen's daily life at home and at school. The author creates beautiful images with his words, making his book a pleasure to read. Although young readers may not be as appreciative of that particular skill, they will undoubtedly recognize his apt and truthful portrayals of the people in his book.


Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.

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

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