________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008


Fouling Out.

Gregory Walters.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
168 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-714-9.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Thom Knutson.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


I think about calling the police and coming clean about my part in the shooting. If they believe me, people will learn that the “attempted murder” involved a squirrel, not a person. Maybe the whole media frenzy will wind down. Then again, maybe the media won’t want their lead story ruined by a stupid seventh grader. What if they refuse to let the truth be told? Gosh, am I getting even more paranoid? How paranoid do you have to be to be committed? I seem destined for lockup of one kind or another. Still, by confessing, I’ll have my dignity – such as it is.

Then I think of Tom beating me to a pulp. Then I think of Tom’s dad doing the same to him. If a lima bean sandwich can trigger a whipping, God knows how that man will react if he finds out Tom stole his gun. If I take full responsibility for the window thing, how do I explain where I got the gun? You can’t exactly just pick one up at the grocery store or find one in a ditch. Not in my neighbourhood anyway…Richmond Racist or not.

I don’t have an answer. I feel nauseous so I clench my pillow against my stomach, hoping that will bring comfort. It’s no use. I do the only thing I can think of doing. I turn on my dad’s computer and download Space Explorers.

Seventh grader Craig Trilosky faces a serious dilemma. He has been friends with Tom Hanrahan since grade 2, yet has wondered in recent years why he continues to tolerate Tom’s often abusive behaviour towards him. For Craig, the friendship reaches its limit when Tom shows up at his house waving a gun at Craig, insisting they go squirrel hunting in the nearby forest. Craig does his best to resist but eventually gives in. As Tom aims the gun at a scruffy squirrel, Craig realizes he does not want the animal killed. He knocks Tom to the ground, causing the gunshot to shatter a window in a house owned by an Asian family. The event convinces Craig to distance himself entirely from Tom, partly because he fears being considered an accomplice in what the police consider to be a racially-motivated crime.

     Yet separating from Tom is easier said than done. Craig recognizes Tom’s good qualities and feels badly about the physical abuse Tom endures from his violent father. Tom eventually confesses to the shooting and takes off before he can be placed into foster care. Knowing Tom is scared and on the run, Craig must decide how far he will go to help a friend who is considered by others to be a bad influence on him.

     The most noticeable shortcoming of Gregory Walters’ first novel is its opening which lacks a compelling hook to pull the reader into Craig’s story. In the initial chapter, Craig describes the many dull things in his life, such as his ‘mundane’ family, his mother’s volunteer work, his sister’s endless talking on the phone, and his lack of friends at school. Readers may find this narrative itself dull:

Nothing much happens when you’re thirteen. Too young to work, too young to run in the Olympics, too young to drop out of school. Of course, being “too young” has its advantages. I don’t have to go to work, and I don’t have to listen to oldies radio stations.

The bad part is that you can really get in a rut at my age. With school at the centre of everything, I don’t see how it can be any different. At least there’s summer to look forward to, but that’s not much of a consolation in October.

     However, the second chapter introduces Tom, and the reader begins to experience the conflicting nature of Craig’s friendship with him, a relationship of periodic abuse underscored by strong but subtle loyalty. Craig’s wavering feelings about Tom combine with believable action to effectively drive the plot towards Tom’s disappearance. On several occasions, Craig is determined to end their friendship, but gradually he recognizes why he returns to Tom:

Why do I keep giving Tom a chance? Yeah, he’s funny. Yeah, he makes life interesting. But come on! All my office visits were one thing, but now it’s guns and fights with adults and gay taunts and fights with me. We’ve got history. Lots of it. But friendships change, right? Things would be so much easier if there was some other place where I really fit in.

For all his faults, at least Tom isn’t fake. Whether he’s punching me out or begging me to watch a Raptors game on TV, I always know where I stand.

     At the height of the plot, Tom, now hiding out, asks Craig to steal his dog for him. Craig sneaks into the yard after dark and is about to unhook Archie from his chain when he feels the threatening hand of an adult on his shoulder. Knowing that Tom’s father is physically abusive, the chapter closes with Craig’s preparing himself to be beaten by an unpredictable and enraged Mr. Hanrahan. The scene is well-placed as a climax, avoiding becoming so dramatic that it is rendered implausible.

     Short chapters and guy-focused action will appeal especially to males in grades 6 to 8, some of whom may recognize in themselves the same sense of isolation and lack of belonging felt by Craig. The challenge for those readers who pick up the book on their own will be getting past the brief but slow opening chapter, and into the action that reveals a sometimes awkward, but not unusual, friendship between two boys. Creating an authentic voice is a challenge for any writer, but Walters’ comes closer to the mark as the novel progresses. The somewhat static cover, which does convey elements of the content within, should help promote the book to browsers. Overall, Fouling Out shows Walters’ potential as a writer, and Orca would be wise to encourage another title from this new talent. A good public and school library purchase.


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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ISSN 1201-9364
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