________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 5. . . .October 24, 2008


Searching for Yesterday. (A Shelby Belgarden Mystery).

Valerie Sherrard.
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk Books/Dundurn Press. 2008.
219 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-788-4.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

***½ /4



In a town as small as Little River, where the same people tend to be in the same places year after year and you see the same faces day after day, it starts to feel as though your whole world is familiar in a boring, nothing-ever-happens way. Except it isn't like that. Not really. It just seems that way. There are always things going on behind the scenes, behind the faces, things you'd never guess. People have secrets some good, some dark and horrible.


Searching for Yesterday, the latest in the "Shelby Belgarden Mystery" series, is an exploration of secrets, and the outcomes of their revelations include the good, the dark, and the horrible. As in Eyes of a Stalker, the story takes place in Shelby's Grade 11 year; Searching begins at an ice-skating party, after the winter holiday break. Annie Berkley, a Grade 10 student, reluctantly accepts an invitation to the party, but for some reason, she decides not to attend. Annie is one of those kids who is always on the fringes, never quite fitting in, and of late, has become "even more reclusive than usual." But on the way home from the party, Shelby sees Annie trudging down the street ahead of her, still holding her skates. For whatever reason, something kept her from actually joining the party. Annie's loneliness tears at Shelby's heart:

I got thinking about how long I'd known Annie and yet how little I knew her. It seemed that, instead of getting closer to anyone as time went by, she was putting up more and more defences. And right then and there I made up my mind that I was going to do everything I possible could to befriend this sad, lonely girl.

     Annie has been a foster child for more than half her life. Currently living with the Nortons, her third set of foster parents (and genuinely nice folks), Annie expects to come home one day to find "[her] social worker . . . sitting on the couch and [her] suitcases . . . packed beside her on the floor. It will be obvious that it's already been worked out." Although she claims to be used to this situation and has mastered the art of emotional detachment, leaving is more difficult if the family has a pet, and it is clear that Annie will miss the Nortons' cat, Pepo the Magnificent, a big, orange, goofy feline who has learned to flush a toilet and does so anytime someone leaves the bathroom door open.

     In the course of an awkward initial visit at the Nortons, Shelby draws out the story of Annie's apparent abandonment, and so, the mystery begins. Who is Annie's mother, and why did she lam out of Little River with her boyfriend, Lenny Herbert, leaving seven year-old Annie with her grandmother? Why has Lenny returned to Little River? As the friendship between the two girls develops, finding the answers to these questions becomes a joint venture.

     Meanwhile, another mystery is developing. Shelby's best friend, Betts, known for her ever-changing roster of boyfriends, has found a new one Kruel Danger, a rocker whose real name is Edgar Manchester. Shelby is shocked when Betts reveals her infatuation for him. Kruel/Edgar is much older than Betts, and Betts' parents will be furious to find out that their 17-year-old daughter is dating someone in his mid-twenties. But, in matters of romance, Betts is resourceful. Her solution: she's told Kruel/Edgar that she is 19, and as for his age, well, that can be a little mystery that she can keep from her parents. If chronological misrepresentation isn't bad enough, both Kruel and Betts both manage to spin an entire web of lies which they tell each other. It doesn't take too many pages to realize that Shelby's well-intentioned efforts to get Betts to see the error of her ways will fail and possibly break up their long-time friendship.

     So, how do the two mysteries (Annie's and Betts') ultimately play out? Well, for Annie, long-held secrets, "some good, some dark" provide much-needed, if difficult, answers to questions about her mother. As for Betts, the secrecy in her relationship with Kruel/Edgar leads to consequences which are truly horrible. I am guessing that the next Shelby Belgarden book will show how she'll deal with them.

     After the incredible suspense and downright terror of Eyes of a Stalker, Searching for Yesterday is in many ways, a kinder and gentler story. Nevertheless, it is a story which deals with some real-life issues faced by real-life teens: the search for identity (and birth parentage), the consequences of bad choices, and the rewards of facing difficult situations. Valerie Sherrard's telling of Annie's story is compassionate and insightful about the challenges faced by foster children. Sherrard's own experience as a foster parent undoubtedly resonates in this story. Shelby's friendship with Annie and her futile attempts to intervene in Betts' relationship show uncommon, although not unbelievable, maturity. Although it can be argued that the mystery of Annie's parentage, when solved, is an almost "too-happy" ending for her, the injuries Betts sustains in the final chapters wipe the sugar bits away. Highly recommended for all Shelby Belgarden fans, and really, a good "starter" for those who have yet to meet her.

Highly Recommended

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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