CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 3 . . . .September 28, 2007
A Perfect Gentle Knight.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2007.
205 pp., cloth, $20.00.
Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
Sebastian smiled at him. "Aunt Madge thinks you're still a little boy. She doesn't know you're a squire! Squires are old enough to know the truth about Santa Claus. He's not real, Master Harry. He's a story for kids." Harry looked relieved. "I thought so! Because how could one person go all over the world in one night? And reindeer can't fly, anyway!"
Roz looked worried. "Don't tell the twins he's not real, though. It's nice to believe in Santa Claus when you're their age."
Corrie thought wistfully of when she believed, of how she used to stick her head out of her window every Christmas Eve and try to hear bells and hooves on the roof.
"So Santa's a story like the Round Table. Just pretend, I mean," said Harry.
Sebastian frowned. "Well, not exactly. Santa Claus is a myth. The Round Table is more real than that."
"Don't be ridiculous, Sebastian," snapped Roz. "The Round Table is just as much of a myth as Santa Claus is! We pretend we're knights—we're not really knights."
Corrie was astonished to see tears in Sebastian's eyes. "I do not like to hear you speaking like this, Sir Gawain," he muttered.
Kit Pearson is one of Canada's most respected authors of historical fiction for young adults. Her latest novel, A Perfect Gentle Knight, will further enhance her reputation. On the one hand, it is a tale of idyllic childhood games, but beyond this soft underbelly is a deeply troublesome story of depression and delusional fantasy.
Set in Vancouver in 1957 and 1958, the six Bell children are struggling to cope with the death of their mother. In his endeavour to cope with his own grief, their father has immersed himself into his work, slavishly attending to his university teaching and a book that he is writing. Unfortunately for the children, they are largely neglected and left to fend for themselves.
The oldest child, 14-year-old Sebastian, involves his siblings in an intricate fantasy in which he plays the role of Sir Lancelot and in which his brothers and sisters all take on roles as knights, squires and pages. The second oldest child is Roz. As Roz enters her teens, she begins more and more to abandon her role as Sir Gawain, and she is increasingly drawn toward music, clothes, boyfriends and other teen distractions. "Everyone has to grow up," insists Roz.
The story is primarily presented from the perspective of 11-year-old Corrie. Although she loves the Knights of the Round Table games, Corrie becomes concerned that Sebastian has lost his increasingly tenuous grip on reality. With the children's father locked away in his study, busily writing his book, Aunt Madge recognizes the potential damage being caused by the children's game. "None of you seem to have any friends," Aunt Madge worries. Recognising the threat that Aunt Madge represents, Sebastian names her Morgan La Fay—an enemy to Camelot. "She is evil and must be vanquished," declares Sebastian.
Young adults will enjoy Pearson's well-crafted, multi-dimensional characters. Despite a setting 50 years distant, the characters resonate with realistic depth and complexity that will intrigue readers who are themselves making the often-difficult transition from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. This is an extremely well written, intriguing book from a superb storyteller.
Gregory Bryan teaches children's literature at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, MB.
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