________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008



Dianne Linden.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2008.
134 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-37-9.

Subject Headings:
Dogs-Juvenile fiction.
Children and death-Juvenile fiction.
Peacekeeping forces-Boznia and Herzegovina-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



Every time Mom wrote us she said we shouldn't worry, that she was safe from dangerous land mines that are buried in the ground and explode when you step on them and kill you, or at least take off your legs. Except Nellie said Mom wasn't really safe because land mines are everywhere in Bosnia and you can walk on one without knowing it. That got me worrying all over again so I made up a little poem to whisper when I was by myself.

I said, "She's on a mission far away, but she'll be back soon one day." I did it that way so I could think about Mom and Merit [his dog] at the same time. Also to make it rhyme. After we moved into Uncle Martin's, I found out that rhyming things helped me calm down. Sometimes I said the whole poem, but sometimes I just said, "Away, day," over and over again very fast.

It was a lot of work, worrying about both of them and saying the poem so much. It could make me dizzy or tired. But I had to keep saying it because if I didn't, sometimes a shadow zigzagged around in my mind, like it was trying to hurt me. I said the poem faster than ever when the shadow came.


It is a very difficult task for an adult to get inside the mind of a young boy, especially a boy with as many hang-ups as Mike (Lester B. only to his mother and a few of his teachers) Hopkins, but Dianne Linden has done an incredibly convincing job of it. Mike is a kid who seems to me to be on the edge of autism, though the word is never mentioned. At any rate, he has a lot of worried questions and some pretty strange experiences for which he comes up with some pretty strange answers. At the pool for the annual pet swim that traditionally finishes off the outdoor swimming season, he is accidentally pushed into the water, nearly drowns, and feels that he has been summoned back to life by a silvery dog with opalescent eyes. This ties in with a book he comes across in the library which describes an ancient belief that dogs actually guard the gates of Death. Later he identifies his saviour dog with a stray he insists the family adopt, to whom he talks--no, with whom he converses!--and from whom he gets a lot of good philosophy, even if not exactly advice.

     Mike could use a bit of help. His mother has determined to go to Bosnia with the reserve army, a story we have already heard from Mike's sister Nellie's point of view in Peacekeepers. Mike and Nellie have to cope with moving to Edmonton to live with their uncle Martin, going to new schools, their mother's being far away and in danger, and Nellie's being attacked by school bullies. Of course, there are also some good bits. Inspired by Mike's stories of the school his mother is working to establish in Bosnia and one little boy there in particular, Mike's grade two class collects school supplies and does a wonderful class project on peacekeeping in Bosnia, highlighted by Mike's own Power Point presentation. Mike also makes friends with an old man and his dog who live across the street from Uncle Martin and who dishes out more philosophy, stories, and plain cookies ("without wrinkles" as Mike has very distinct dislikes in food, especially textures).

      However, death haunts poor Mike. There was his own experience in the pool and the constant fear of his mother's death--which, thank goodness, doesn't happen! But his dog goes missing and has to be presumed dead, the Bosnian boy gets killed by a land mine, and Mr. Lapinski has a fatal heart attack. As one traumatic experience piles on another, it is no wonder that the "shadows" invaded his mind! As Mr Lapinski said, however, "Everything comes back again," and that includes Mike. This is a remarkable story that probes the depths of a child's psyche. As we see Mike from both inside and out, we can understand the frustrations of those around him who, having been blind to the build-up of his troubles, have little idea of what they can do to help once they have overwhelmed him. When a sympathetic army psychiatrist finally manages to free Mike to the point that he can write things down even though he is unable to talk, his mother reads what he has written, and although she cries, "she told me she wanted to know everything I felt like telling her from now on." Hope for the future, but an indictment of the past when he was so totally not listened to.

      Despite Mike's age, what is certain is that this book is not written for Grade Two students. It is a plea to parents to pay attention; it is catharsis for children who may feel ignored. Above all, it is a story of a brave little boy in difficult circumstances coping as best he can.


Mary Thomas works in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, MB, where autism is one of the facts of life for some children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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