CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007
St. John's, NL: Tuckamore Books/Creative Publishing, 2007.
242 pp., pbk., $17.95.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Darleen Golke.
The pitch came in. It was a grueling fastball down the middle. Gordie swung the bat and connected, feeling the bat take hold of the threads of the ball as if it was nothing but a touch. It was a kiss so powerful that there was no feeling. There was just numbness. Then it was gone. He watched the ball sail through the air, as he slowly jogged towards first base, caught in a moment of low motion, then stillness.
There was silence until the ball bounced on the other side of the fence, bringing his teammates to their feet with an immense roar. Gordie raised his arms high. He was filled with joy and exhilaration as he rounded the bases, looking back at his teammates. They all rushed from the dugout and met Gordie as he reached home plate. He jumped on it with both feet, stamping it with authority, followed by a barrage of hand slapping high-fives. He saw Paddy and winked at him as he was ushered into the dugout.
"Just where I like it, buddy," beamed Gordie.
"Hot dog!' said Paddy, as he rolled his eyes at him, shaking his head in defeat.
As Gordie was entering the dugout he spotted his father's car in the parking lot. Ben was leaning on the side door clapping his hands and shouting, "Way to go, champ! Way to go!" Gordie gave him the thumbs up and smiled. He turned his head towards the sound of a familiar horn. Mary's Volkswagen was parked behind the dugout. She sat in the front seat flashing her lights. He waved to her, but was confused as to why they weren't sitting together. The coach clapped him on the back and shook his hand while the rowdy team congratulated him. Somehow, it just didn't feel right. It felt all wrong. The wind had been taken out of his sails.
Set in the Mundy Pond area of St. John's, NL, during a few days of the summer of 1978, this coming of age novel focuses on 11-year old Gordie McAllister, his family, and his friends. Gordie's middle class family includes his mother, Mary, the "most stunning woman in the neighbourhood," his handsome "number one salesman in the city" father, Ben, and his little sister, Jenny, "nosey as nosey could be" always poking into Gordie's affairs. His best friend, Jimmy Birmingham, lives nearby in a ramshackle house with his father, Randal, an abusive drunk, and his mother, Laura, the punching bag for Randal's viciousness. Despite the economic differences in their circumstances, the boys spend every spare minute together playing baseball, staging elaborate military campaigns, building rafts and forts, and generally enjoying being imaginative and energetic youngsters.
Unfortunately, the boys' carefree summer unravels when the adult world intrudes. "Gordie's dad was his hero," but when Mary discovers Ben's infidelity, she throws him out of the house, separating Gordie from his beloved father and leaving him with an "emptiness that he felt inside." Trouble doesn't end there; Mary receives a diagnosis of cancer that requires surgery and treatment. However, the McAllister's problems pale in comparison with the Birmingham situation as Randal's violence escalates to the point that Jimmy confides to Gordie, "I'm afraid he's going to kill us. If anything happens you're our witness." So disturbed is Gordie by this shared confidence that he faints during his duties at mass and is scooped up by his father and carried off to a café for lunch. There, a melodramatic scene ensues when Ben's girlfriend shows up and presents an ultimatum that sends Ben back to the family he realizes he "could not go on without."
Laura, who has long borne the abuse of her violent husband, finally leaves Randal when she realizes Jimmy's life is in jeopardy. She seeks sanctuary with the McAllister family and exacts her own justice against her abusive husband, justice that Gordie unwittingly witnesses as does Mr. Taylor, an ex-military widower living next door. Taylor sympathetically advises Gordie, "listen to your instincts." He continues, "Sometimes things happen that might not seem right but you just know inside that they are." Things are "wrong in this world when a young boy has to carry a burden that he's not ready for. But maybe that's the price for growing up."
Maunder, best known as a filmmaker and the founder of the Nickel Independent Film Festival in St. John's, turned a feature film script about Mundy Pond into a novel for young readers. The influence of his background in film shows particularly in the novel's compact time frame, the fast-paced action, the limited development of the main characters, the secondary "type" characters, the abundance of "issues," the straightforward, easy-to-read language, and the uncomplicated plot structure. The passages in which the boys create their elaborate and creative games ring most true and capture their mischievousness and carefree attitudes, at least until the adult world intrudes. A few interesting secondary characters provide additional local colour, among them a couple of shrewd neighbourhood seniors, a love interest, a developmentally challenged neighbourhood lad, and the unavoidable town bully. Gordie is presented as an ordinary youngster trying to understand his evolving world, adjust to the changes, and find meaning in it. Infidelity, domestic abuse, drunkenness, cancer, abusive priests, sexual awakening, animal cruelty, and bullying are among the "problems" mentioned.
Novels appealing to young male readers are always a welcome addition to collections. This tale captures some of the uniqueness of Newfoundland's culture and includes some of the quirks of language identified with the region. Maunder clearly loves his province and paints colourful and detailed landscapes against which the action of the novel unfolds.
A former teacher-librarian, Darleen Golke writes from Abbotsford, BC.
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