________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004


Sam's Light.

Valerie Sherrard.
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk Book/Dundurn Press, 2004.
216 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 1-55002-535-X.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joanne Peters.

***1/2 /4



My grandfather used to say that you never really knew a man until you worked for him.

"There's somethin' about having authority over another person that brings out a man's true colours," he'd tell me during some of our long walks through the woods behind his property. "I've had employers who'd sit up righteous-like in church on Sundays, who'd treat you like a friend out and around town. But you work for them and you see another side - a side that's mean and small. Then there are others you'd think would be hard to work for, and they'd turn out to be good men, and fair."

I'd listen as he told me about different bosses he'd had, and I'd take it all in, even though I'd heard a lot of it more than once before. I was never sure if Grandpa forgot he'd already told a story, or just thought it bore repeating. Either way, it really didn't matter. It was great when the two of us got to take walks and talk.

Cole Fennety has his eye on a very nice bike, a Kona Hardtail Stuff, to be precise. His parents really can't afford to buy it, and he knows that the only way that he'll own it is to find a job. Problem is, at 14 years of age, the prospects are somewhat limited. And, until he passes Sam's Shop, a combination hardware store and small engine repair shop owned by the notoriously crusty Sam Kerrigan, a paper route seems like the only option. Cole's job "interview" is quite unusual, but, after finding keel sticks, chain saws, and files, he finds, to his surprise that he is hired. "Working for old Sam Kerrigan wasn't going to be a happy experience, that was for sure," but Cole can make it work for a summer, if it means that he can earn enough to buy that Kona.

     Sam's Light is the chronicle of the summer that Cole spends in the hardware store with Sam. There's also life at home with a mom for whom television soaps seem more important than "real" life, Cole's annoying younger sister, a father with whom he has a remarkably good relationship, Rhonda Walker, a classmate who becomes his girlfriend, and adventures with Wayne, his best friend. Impulsive, manipulative, and at times, genuinely thoughtless, Wayne is a total jerk, although Cole can't help admiring his fearlessness. Truth to tell, as a reader, I loathed Wayne, and by the time the story ends, Cole is close to feeling the same way about him. And, much of that is due to the changes that take place as Cole spends time with Sam, who we learn is suffering from terminal cancer, and who, turns out to be one of those men that Grandpa describes as "good . . . and fair." Sam knows that time is running out for him, and he plans to retire at the end of summer. But, the retirement is from more than work, and, when Sam confides to Cole that he plans to choose the time to end his life, Cole makes the decision that "Sam Kerrigan wasn't going to die alone." Not many 14-year-olds could make that decision, but Cole becomes quite another person by the time Sam leaves this world. Cole's choice is an extraordinary one, but sometimes, people are given the opportunity to make such choices, and they are changed forever. Cole certainly is.

     I enjoyed Sam's Light in a way that I hadn't expected. In her "Acknowledgments," Valerie Sherrard, the author of Kate and the "Shelby Belgarden" mysteries, attests to the challenges of writing in the voice of a teenage boy, and, at first, I found Cole to be wise beyond his years, and to be honest, quite unlike most 14-year-old boys of my acquaintance. Nevertheless, Cole's voice became stronger and more credible as the story developed. But, it's not enough for me to enjoy Sam's Light; it has to appeal to Cole's contemporaries. And, I think that it will. It's not for the guy who wants an action story - really, a summer spent in a rural hardware story is no competition for a Tom Clancy-style thriller. But, I think that there are young men who will enjoy Cole's story, and I know that young women will, too.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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