________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2010



Valerie Sherrard.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2009.
192 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-55488-431-5.

Subject Heading:
Toronto(Ont.)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4


I called him The Watcher.

He was probably around forty, casually dressed and basically nondescript-looking. I might never have noticed him except that there were too many times that he was just standing around. I think that's what grabbed my eye. In the city, everyone seems to be in motion most of the time. Still, I think there was something else.

It could have been that kind of crawly feeling you get when you sense someone watching you. I caught him at it a couple of times, but usually when I swung my head around he'd be checking his watch or looking somewhere else or walking away without to much a glance in my direction. I decided that he was slick, but no pro.


Sixteen-year-old Porter Delancy lives with his single-parent mom and older sister, Lynn, in a public housing project in downtown Toronto. Fathers have been absent from the lives of Porter and his best friend, Tack, for quite some time; Porter's memories of his dad are "murky," and Porter's mom has absolutely nothing positive to say about someone who "left his family to rot on welfare for the rest of their lives." Neither Tack nor Porter is interested in school, either; skipping classes and smoking more than the occasional joint finally leads to a series of "pranks" that culminate in court appearances. As a result of his brushes with the law, Porter is a three-time offender and now has a year of "supervised probation" to endure. How difficult can it be to stop smoking weed and stay out of trouble? For Porter, rather difficult; his probation officer, Andrew Daniels, has seen his share of lying, manipulative punks and makes it clear to Porter that there will be no second chances if the dope and bad behaviour continues. The tough love approach works, and a genuine relationship and some real conversation takes place between the two.

     Daniels has appeared at a critical moment in Porter's life. Right now, life has a mindless sameness about it: a mother who is probably suffering from chronic depression; a sister who extracts maximum attention and drama from her on-again, off-again relationship with Conor (her long-suffering boyfriend); and a persistent lack of cash. A "deadbeat dad" is also part of Andrew Daniels' past, but Daniels is proof that, if you make the choice to move beyond the hurt, you can survive and, thrive.

     The appearance of "the Watcher," this mystery man who seems to be watching him, gives Porter some much-needed focus. Along with Tack, he gets a decidedly unglamorous job at a bakery; with his sister's help, he starts to unravel the truth behind their mother's story of their father's desertion; and, with the help of his girlfriend, Lavender, he finds the courage to confront "the Watcher," who is most definitely not Porter's dad. Porter is disheartened, but Lavender is persistent that he keep trying to find the man. And finally, (in a "truth is more amazing than fiction" mode) he does. Porter and his dad meet, and some very hard truths emerge: over the past 12 years, letters and gifts were kept from Porter and Lynn, and despite accusations to the contrary, Steve Delancy faithfully supported his children. Armed with this knowledge, Lynn and Porter confront their mother, and then, leave home.

     For a novel aimed at young adult readers, Watcher handles a number of tough and emotion-charged issues: the lingering scars of family break-up, the need to know the truth about one's identity (no matter how painful that truth might be), and the injustices that are the result (intentional or otherwise) of the adversarial nature of custody disputes. Valerie Sherrard took on a real challenge with these issues, and her work with foster children has undoubtedly given her much insight into the profound hurt experienced by kids in this situation. Undoubtedly, there will be student readers for whom Porter's story will resonate, strongly. Despite his faults, it's hard not to like Porter and to enjoy the convoluted way in which he tells his stories. Sherrard has a genuine ear for teen talk and there's a gritty realism about the language and especially her descriptions of downtown urban poverty However, although the protagonist is male, I'm not sure that this is a typical "guy" book; I think it needed more action to amp up its appeal to male readers. For that reason, I think it will be a bit of a "sell" to get guys to read this book. But, for those who do, I think that they will like Porter and like Watcher.


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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