CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 2 . . . .September 15, 2006
Voice of the Valley.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
215 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Laura Dodwell-Groves.
Reviewed from prepublication copy.
“How do you pronounce that head thing again?”
“It looked incredible when you were running your horse,” he said, taking a yellow apple from his artist bag. “Sort of Batman meets Lawrence of Arabia.”
She smiled. He was the first person other than her family or Stacy who had seen her parade in the Kaffiyeh. She tried to neutralize her grin by concentrating on the ancient erratic, but the delight remained on her face. “Thanks, I guess.”
He took a bite of his apple. She crunched into hers. They sat together and crackled and slurped the juicy fruit. He took another drink. She untwisted the mason jar and held it to her thin lips. She caught a dribble of orange juice with the back of her hand as it rolled down her chin. Both were quiet for a long time.
Onja spoke, surprising herself. “What were YOU doing in the valley?”
“You mean when I wasn’t watching you?” He grinned. “Just kidding. I was helping my mom at the archaeology dig not far from there.” He looked up the river where Muktuk had loped with the rabbit.
“Yes. You know. People looking for the past.”
“I know what archaeology is,” Onja said, the smile still pulling at her mouth, “but are you saying there’s archaeology in MY valley?”
If you don’t like stories about horses or nature or first love, then this is not a book for you. Stop reading now.
If you do, a brief synopsis: Onja Claibourn loves the valley near her house with stubborn delight. Long summer days, and she and her horse Ginger can explore to their hearts’ content. Stacy, Onja’s best friend, used to enjoy traipsing with them but has just moved away. A happy and exciting thing then that a boy called Etthen has arrived to share it with her. As their love for the valley and each other grows, a shadow looms large. Developers plan to flood their valley. How much of who Onja is will be washed away with it?
This book is written quite well. Sheena Koops has a good hand at imagery, and, as such, the valley is given an impressive three-dimensional quality. The historical richness of the area and the author's delight in her surroundings ares abundantly clear. Ginger the horse is also given a fun and feisty attitude.
But a three-dimensional valley and does not a story make. This is apparently a coming-of-age story, but Onja seems to evolve or change very little in the course of the book. Etthen I shall allow to be mysterious – adds to the romance – but the other characters seem to play on only one note.
The plot of the novel also lacks a clear direction. Some digging, some recording, some riding and a stolen smile or two: isolated amusements that cannot hold together the tenuous thread of a storyline. A thread not helped by the fact that we are given little new information in the last two-thirds of the novel.
This book could be a good short story: A girl loves a valley. In it is her childhood, and so the flooding developers represent the inevitable pangs of loss, and the uncertain challenges of change and growth. But the metaphor cannot carry 200-odd pages when the plot fails to turn up.
I shall devote my last paragraph to Mrs Malaprop: a character from the play The Rivals (1775, by Richard Sheridan) who had a marvelous habit of confusing her long words. She would tell you the perpendiculars of her story, rather than the particulars. Or say you were as stubborn as ‘an allegory on the Nile’, when she really meant alligator. These word confusions we now call malapropisms. I applaud Sheena Koops for mentioning Mrs Malaprop in her story, albeit incorrectly. She says “I hit my ROCK on the HEAD”, which is just word confusion. Much fun, but not of Mrs Malaprop’s making. I hope you will all forgive the lecture, but I think we owe it to that Dear Old Dame to eliminate her correctly. Oops, I mean imitate. Actually, no I don’t.
Laura Dodwell-Groves is a Master of Children’s Literature student at the University of British Columbia.
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