CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 11 . . . . January 25, 2008
Fourteen-year-old Zanna plans to spend the summer in Paris going to art galleries and shopping with her mother, until the strawberry tattoo on her ankle is discovered (“The strawberry that broke the camel’s back”). She is sent instead to Last Chance Pass, in the mountains of Alberta, to rough it with her dad and her twin brother, Martin. The local grocery store not only stocks more varieties of dog food than they do vegetarian options, but Internet and phone access are severely limited, and Zanna can’t seem to get any of the emails that her boyfriend in Toronto must be sending.
After moving into their tiny cabin, they discover an abandoned puppy and decide to take him in until he is claimed. He promptly eats Zanna’s prized new Paluzzi sneakers, and they name him Paris – the place she dreams of spending the summer. The twins volunteer to help with the Parks Canada Office, under Tyler - the “know-it-all ranger”, in Zanna’s words - Martin willingly, Zanna for lack of a better option. Tyler takes them hunting for bear scat at an ungodly hour of the day and is convinced that Paris is full-blown wolf, but Zanna still has trouble overcoming the appeal of his good looks and glacier-blue eyes.
When Martin disappears with a damaged ATV on a search to discover whether their father is working for a resort developing company, Zanna and Tyler can only hope that Paris can help them search him out, and the novel becomes a wilderness adventure story – rough weather, dangerous glacier-fed rivers, and the very real fear for Martin’s life and safety. This turn of the plot is believable as the physical terrain is dangerous enough for accidents and disappearances to happen to those who don’t have the skills or knowledge to travel safely. While Zanna and Tyler search for Martin, they develop a mutual respect that helps Zanna in realizing that her boyfriend, Zane, is not as supportive and true to her as she thought.
Told from Zanna’s sometimes self-centered perspective, the story begins as an extended complaint through Zanna’s observations and her emails to Zane. She resents her mother for first separating her from her brother, for attempting to end her relationship with Zane, and for abandoning her to go to Paris with her partner, Jacques. Zanna’s constant stream of internal complaints make her hard to like and connect with at the beginning of the novel, but as she adapts to her new environment and focuses her attention on the whereabouts of her brother, she becomes more open to what is happening around her instead of where she wishes she could be. As she worries about her brother, the bond between the two of them, as well as her relationship to her father, become stronger, despite the fact that she hasn’t spent much time with them for over four years. The secondary mystery of whether Paris is a wolf is resolved early with Zanna’s being convinced to send him to the wolf reserve and questionable odds of survival. When Martin has disappeared, she releases Paris from the reserve in order to help her in her search.
Although Zanna seems spoiled at the beginning of the story, by the end she is much more likeable as a character and has grown as a person, overcoming some of her resentment and finally looking with excitement at the future. The writing includes large amounts of dialogue as well as several emails from her mother and from Zanna to Zane, and McNicoll’s prose is clear in her descriptions of the Alberta mountains. This story is easy to follow and touches on the multiple confusions of adolescence. It blends the excitement of an adventure story with the wry sense of humour of a 14-year-old stuck for a summer in the mountains.
Bryannie Kirk is a student in the Masters of Arts in Children’s Literature program 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.