CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2007.
333 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Shannon Ozirny.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Since that day, I have learned a number of things about justice: if you are a little bit too independent and are known to have opinions of your own, and if you live in a small town, a place like Shelter Bay on the west coast of Canada; if your mother has the watery look induced by too many pills and your sister may or may not be a liar; if you are a girl of fourteen, who doesn't cry when she is interrogated and has a steely look of hatred in her eyes from one too many atrocities – you might as well be guilty, because everyone will treat you that way.
On the surface, Tin Angel is a murder mystery set in Canada's west coast in the turbulent 1970s. But a closer look reveals many intriguing themes that promise a multitude of uses in the Canadian classroom, and a rewarding read for all.
Fourteen-year-old Ronnie Page lives in a secluded mountain lodge with her mother, father, and older sister, Marcia. While tourists call Raven's lodge home in the summer, winter brings many long months of isolation for the Page family. Ronnie, however, rejoices in the natural wonders of her home and the long hours spent hiking with her father. When tragedy forces the Page family to sell Raven's to Louis Moss, a mysterious family friend, Ronnie's life begins to spiral out of control. Her mother is incapacitated by drugs and alcohol, her sister has formed a bizarre bond with Louis Moss, and Ronnie is left completely to her own devices. As loneliness, hunger, and grief consume her life, Ronnie finds herself accused of a heinous crime and completely unsure of her own guilt or innocence.
Without spoiling the book's many plot twists, Tin Angel touches on an amazing variety of themes: stifling small town life, realistic portrayals of poverty and substance abuse, 1970s political activism, and the troubling evolution of Canadian youth justice. High school teachers from all disciplines will find this book a wonderful addition to their curricula. Memories of unproductive, giggly mock trials in my Grade 12 Law class implore me to especially recommend Tin Angel to secondary teachers in Social Studies, Canadian History, and Law.
Shannon Cowan reveals the fruits of her research in some incredibly useful supplementary reading material. An Afterword and a Historical Timeline bring context to the novel. Perhaps more importantly, Cowan's efforts are seamlessly integrated into her narrative; the story is not merely a dumping ground for facts. Every detail from the names of west coast flora and fauna, to the terminology used by an arson expert, to an inept policeman's greasy hairline is satisfying and delicious.
Tin Angel is recommended for older readers, not because of sexual or violent content, but because of the complexity of the prose. Haunting imagery, challenging vocabulary, and subtle nuances demand a committed, well-developed reader. That being said, the suspenseful plot will propel less-experienced readers forward to an explosive, satisfying ending.
Whether read by a high school class full of Canadian History students, or a lone reviewer in the bathtub, Tin Angel promises a fulfilling reading experience, one created by an undeniably skilled writer.
Shannon Ozirny is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program at the University of British Columbia.
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