CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 4 . . . .October 14, 2005
In Joanne Bell's first novel, Breaking Trail, Becky and her family are traveling back to their cabin after being disappointed by the fur market in town. Becky's father is depressed, and her mother is about to give up on him but hopes that a trip back to their cabin will cure him.
Focusing primarily on this journey, the plot is simple and slow-paced and deals secondarily with the conflicts in Becky's life: family tensions, worries about trail conditions, the stress of training her own dog team for the first time and preparing them for the Junior Quest race, plus the worry that her lead dog, Ginger, is about to give birth and Becky has neither told her parents nor knows how she will get the pups back to town after the summer. Bell portrays the rugged Yukon wilderness setting vividly.
Becky is a complex, determined young protagonist, breaking trail in her life as well in the wilderness. She has a child-like innocence, but she also questions the security of her family and is full of apprehension. At the same time, she is angry that her mother might want to abandon her father. Becky displays courage when she does what is necessary to help Ginger give birth; she displays determination when she runs behind her sled, almost dropping from exhaustion rather than adding the strain of her weight to Ginger's load. These are some of the more memorable moments, but there is a great focus on the animals throughout the novel, to the neglect of the development of human characters.
The book is written in first person, present tense, and the language is simplistic for the targeted audience of 9-12. Though the book touches on some more mature themes such as depression and family problems, it is primarily a warm story about a girl and her relationship with her dogs. Italicized sections in the novel may confuse some readers. Presumably they are flashbacks of happier times for Becky and her family (Becky's memories). I wished for more sentence variety, as the many short sentences made the narrative a bit choppy and stilted by the end. On one hand, the syntactic choices may not make the book ideal to read aloud, but, on the other, the novel may appeal to a high interest/low ability reader. Bell displays thorough knowledge of her subject matter through the language, which gives a sense of confidence to the text.
Breaking Trail combines elements of wilderness, adventure, and animal stories and is a quick, easy and entertaining read that offers a glimpse into what is an unfamiliar world for many Canadian children.
Andrea Szilagyi is a graduate student studying children's literature at the University of British Columbia.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.