________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 11 . . . . January 25, 2008


Lockdown. (Orca Soundings).

Diane Tullson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
103 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-916-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55143-918-1 (hc.).

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Thom Knutson.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


It’s like the entire school floods into the stairwell. People pound down the stairs toward us. Their voices clamor, frightened voices. They push and shove toward the blocked exit door, trying to escape the school.

Like fish in a bucket, that’s what we are. My mouth goes dry. A locked stairwell seems like a good place to kill a lot of people at one time. I grab Zoe’s hand. “Come on. We have to go back up.”

We push against the flow of people trying to get back up the stairs. As we run we scream, “The door is locked. It’s a trap.” When more people reach the locked door they too push back up. Eventually, the tide of people tramples up the stairs and I have to hang on tight to Zoe.

At the second floor landing, we find the doorway to the corridor jammed with people six or seven deep trying to get through to the classrooms. So many people are pushing at once that no one is moving. A big guy throws himself over the wall of people. I see his feet kicking against people’s heads. He makes it over. More guys follow him. I feel someone climbing onto my back, then a skate-shoe slams against my cheek as the guy propels himself over the crowd. Girls are doing it too, clawing their way over the backs of their classmates, pulling on people’s hair, digging their heels into people to get into the hallway.

I make a stirrup with my hands and shout at Zoe, “Give me your foot. I’ll lift you up.”

Zoe shakes her head. “I’m not leaving you.” Just then the jam gives way and we pour into the hallway.

It’s all I can do to keep my footing. People run headlong, forcing people out of their way, piling into the classrooms. In front of me, a girl falls. Some people step around her. Most trample right over her. For a second I think about stepping over the girl too, but I bend down and pull her to her feet.

It’s Natalie from Science. Her eyes are wild. She’s crying and mascara streams down her face. Her hair is tangled. Her shirt is ripped. She stumbles again and I grab her. People rush past us like we’re not there. Guys are crying. People are screaming over and over like it is a ride. But it’s not a ride. This is real.

When the alarm bell sounds for the second time in a week, all of the students roaming about the hallways assume there is another lockdown drill in progress and pay little attention. Adam and Zoe even see it as an opportunity to skip school for the day. Laughing their way down the stairs, they suddenly see the doors padlocked just as the principal announces there is a gunman in the building. Panic erupts, and students flood the stairwell, attempting to escape. Unable to get through the doors, the mass of bodies turns around and rushes up to the second floor classrooms. In the midst of the stampede, Adam stops to rescue Natalie before she is crushed, and by the time they reach the classrooms, all of the doors are locked and Adam, Zoe and Natalie find themselves alone in the hall. They rush to the boys’ washroom, where they hide in a stall with Baker, another student already there. It is only when the gunman enters the washroom that they realize it is Josh, a grade 10 student who has often faced bullying and teasing. Josh shoots at the four, just grazing Natalie’s head, then disappears down the hall. Adam predicts that Josh will head to the cafeteria, where there is likely to be the greatest number of students gathered. Despite the school’s being locked down, Adam knows that Josh is familiar with a hallway that connects the theatre to the back of the cafeteria. Adam decides he has no choice but to leave the washroom and attempt to alert the police to Josh’s plan. The ensuing cat-and-mouse chase continues until the climax that finds one person shot dead.

     As part of the “Orca Soundings” series, Lockdown has a shorter than normal window in which to present its central characters and set in motion a plot that is exciting, believable, and satisfying in its conclusion. For the most part, Diane Tullson meets this challenge with the same suspense and drive evident in Red Sea. Where the novel tends to falter is in the dialogue that occasionally breaks the tension or fear of the moment. For example, once Josh has left the washroom after shooting Natalie, Baker asks who Josh is. Adam responds that Josh is “just a guy.” Zoe “plants her hands on her hips” and replies “just a guy with a gun” with unusual confidence and authority after such a recent and terrifying experience. The story’s heavier than necessary reliance on stereotypes also diminishes the appeal of the characters to a small extent, rendering their actions more predictable.

     Ultimately, there are no real surprises in the plot, a fact that will not deter those readers drawn to Lockdown’s fast-paced action and relevance to a school readership. The title and the cover alone are sure to catch the eye of many teens looking for an accessible and interesting story.


Thom Knutson is the Youth Services Coordinator at Saskatoon Public Library in Saskatoon, SK.

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

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