CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.
Trouble at the Top of the World. (Screech Owls, #22).
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2008.
127 pp., pbk., $6.99.
Polar bear-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
Off we went, at first slowly, while Sarah and Travis got a feel for driving the snowmobiles, then faster and faster as Uncle Tagak picked up the pace. I could feel the wind in my face, and every once in a while air would cup in the sides of my helmet and the wind would roar. There were times when it drowned out the roar of the engine.
We flew across the bay along a well-worn route, Zebedee’s uncle darting between massive walls of ice and dropping off jumps and at times even skipping fast across what appeared to be open water but wasn’t.
Zebedee was completely in charge of this mad scheme but I was now its main element. I knew what I had to do. Get aboard take some pictures-incriminating if possible-and get off as fast as I could. If we got the photos, we could use them as evidence and get the Mounties to send out an investigative unit.
Annie had hooked Nish and Zebedee up to harnesses as well. The two of them were at the other end of the rope and leaning in the opposite direction, digging in as best they could on the ice.
I felt the rope tighten, then start to lift me.
“Easy! Easy!”said Zebedee.
Up, up, up I rose. I wondered if this was what angels felt like as they went up to heaven. I looked down and watched the faces of Rachel, Sam and Sarah, Jesse and Annie grow smaller and smaller. I could see Zebedee and Nish-Nish ploughing steadily ahead like a work horse.
As Trouble At the Top of the World by Roy MacGregor begins, it is the time of year when the sun never sets in Pangnirtung, Nunavut. The Screech Owls have been asked to represent Southern Canada in the Sunlight Festival Hockey Tournament. On the condition they each keep a journal, they have been granted time off school for this very special opportunity. Therefore, the experiences that befall them on this trip are seen from the perspective of many different participants, based on their journal entries. These include team members, instructors and one of their Inuit competitors, Zebedee. While the hockey games and a description of life in the High Arctic are major parts of the book, the tension that compels one forward revolves around the mysterious discovery of dead and mutilated polar bears. These are endangered animals, and the Screech Owls’ mission is to find out who or what is responsible for this tragedy and to prevent it ever happening again.
Trouble At the Top of the World will appeal to readers aged nine to thirteen on various levels. Hockey fans will love the authentic blow-by-blow accounts of the exciting, down to the wire games. Others will enjoy seeing children of their own age solving a mystery which is critical to wild life and which involves international crime. The visceral humor and directness of the writing style will maintain the attention of reluctant readers who will see the book as an entertaining, fast paced read.
With eighteen diarists involved in telling this story, it is not surprising that only a few characters are sufficiently developed to allow them any true identity, and even those are fairly superficial. Most of the other characters are different in name only and are basically interchangeable as far as personality goes.
There are lengthy descriptions of Inuit customs and Northern geography which are interesting in themselves but seem to have been inserted piecemeal in some portions of the book, giving these areas of the work a didactic component, out of keeping with the other elements.
It is disappointing that the denouement is related second-hand and the capture and arrest of the criminals is glossed over so quickly, making the end flat and unsatisfying.
In spite of the weaknesses as perceived by an adult, the books about the Screech Owls have been popular with readers, especially boys, since the inception of the series. There have been no drastic changes to the format in that time, and so I am certain that Trouble At the Top of the World will be as popular as the others have proved to be.
Aileen Wortley, a retired librarian, lives in Toronto, ON.
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