________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008


Middle Row. (Orca Soundings).

Sylvia Olsen.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
100 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-899-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55143-901-3 (hc.)

Subject Headings:
Nature People - Canada - Juvenile fiction.
Missing persons - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Bryannie Kirk.

*** /4


“See, there you go sounding like your father again.”

That’s the trouble with living with a bigoted fathead like my dad. The same junk that he says just spews out of my mouth before I have time to think. I didn’t have a clue how bad he was until I started hanging out with Raedawn. Now I realize half the stuff I say is just as gross as him.

She turns away and I follow her outside. We sit on the beach.

There’s some kind of crazy romance hanging around in the air. I start thinking about moving away from home and building a shack like this one for Raedawn and me. A secret little place where we could be alone.

“Imagine.” She’s looking at the barbecue and snuggling up beside me. I like it. She grabs my hand. “Imagine living here.”

Damn, this is good, I’m thinking. She’s feeling the same stuff as me.

I say, “Yeah. I know what you mean.”

“I figure Dune lived here until he was about twelve years old, and then they got evicted.”

She drops my hand and sits up. She makes it pretty clear that she’s not thinking about romance.

“No water, no electricity, no TV, no computer.” She sighs. “No traffic, no neighbors, no family, no telephone.”

Middle Row continues the story of Vince and Raedawn, first introduced in Sylvia Olsen’s Yellow Line, another book in the “Orca Soundings” series for reluctant teen readers. The two overstep the racial boundaries in their town and begin a relationship while dealing daily with their communities’ prejudices. While Vince and Raedawn’s relationship begins in Yellow Line, Middle Row can be read on its own. Despite the racial boundaries between the First Nations and white communities in their town, Raedawn and Vince have solidified their relationship. When one of the kids  in their school, Dune, doesn’t show up after the summer holidays, Raedawn decides to investigate, and Vince comes along to help. The title, Middle Row refers to the seat in the middle of the school bus where Dune always sits. Dune and his mother had been part of the group of what Vince’s father calls “beach bastards,” a group of people who lived on the beach and in the forest. When they go missing, no one seems concerned except for Raedawn, and, subsequently, Vince. When they do manage to track down Dune and his mother, they find themselves in the middle of a much larger and more dangerous situation than they ever expected.

     Middle Row deals with issues of race and the ignorance that permeates each community, including the authorities that are meant to protect them all. The story also looks at the varied relationships within families and the stimuli necessary to shift their delicate power balances. Vince’s relationship with his family is increasingly uneasy because of his shifting alliances and developing open-mindedness. Olsen looks at similar issues to those introduced in the first book by exposing a different side to racial prejudice.

     Middle Row is geared towards upper-level teenagers with low reading levels. “Orca Soundings” is a series published by Orca Book Publishers that features high interest, low reading level novels. The reading level for this particular novel is grade 2.4, and most of the books in the “Orca Soundings” series are between grade 2.0 and grade 4.5 reading levels. There are nearly fifty titles in the series, all with varying subjects and reading levels. Despite the short length and simple vocabulary, the content is aimed towards teens, and this story does not read as a simplified version. Without sacrificing story line or writing down to her intended audience, Olsen manages to tell a story applicable for older teens with low reading levels.


Bryannie Kirk is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.