CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 23. . . .February 19, 2010
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2010.
320 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
"Ai. Hello. We are the Dream Drummers from a little Arctic village called Nanurtalik, the place of the polar bear."
I pulled back a touch from the mike, afraid it would pick up the galloping of my heart.
"Tonight we'll sing about Nuna, our land, about the tundra and the sea and the ice and the animals who live there. It's not like it used to be when my grandmother grew up, or even my dad. You read about climate change in your newspapers. Well, we live it. We feel sometimes like the land is falling apart. My grandmother says it's because Sila, our weather spirit, is angry with people messing up the Earth. She speaks of Sila qatlunaatitut, Sila's revenge. She says if you try hard and listen for Sila's voice, you can learn how to fix the world before it's too late. Maybe you'll hear Sila's warning in our song."
I caught Jeffrey's eye. He gave me a cheery nod. Becca and Rosie raised their drums. I took a deep breath, paused to listen to the silence of three thousand souls, then tore into a frantic heartbeat on my drum, the signature riff for "Sila's Revenge."
One strike of my drum and I could feel at home anywhere. That night it told me I would survive the concert –– and then some. I imagined performing for all those well-heeled strangers from the top of Anirniq Hill.
The Kromatiks had told us to "simply do your thing" and they'd improvise over top of us. Once our drums took off, Gabe jumped in with a grinding workout on his fiddle. It sounded like sea ice breaking up in a winter gale. The Kromatiks followed suit with explosive ramblings from the cello and the shriek of brain-numbing winds from the violins and viola.
Nothing like a bang to kick off our first gig on the world stage.
I closed my eyes and opened my throat. Out came a high octane mix of grunts and growls, gasps and wails, all layered over a bed of moans and sighs that told a story of rising seas and falling skies. More than any piece we did, "Sila's Revenge" always shook me to my Uitajuq core. Though we'd performed it maybe a hundred times, when it ended, I always felt, Like wow! Where the hell did that come from?
Jamie Bastedo lives in the subarctic and has a background in ecology, education and entertainment good credentials for the author of a fiction thriller with global warming as its main theme. In On Thin Ice, Bastedo presented the Arctic village of Nanurtalik where climate change and the cultural repercussions resulting from it caused major upheavals in Inuit lifestyles. Sila's Revenge picks up the story two years later and presents an optimistic example of empowerment: it is not too late to save this planet, and each of us can play a part if only we choose to believe our small personal efforts can ultimately effect change. With the 2009 Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen fresh in readers' minds and arguments trying both to prove and disprove climate change in all of the media in abundance, Basdtedo's novel is well timed and particularly pertinent.
Ashley Anowiak returns as the main character in this novel, and she, Rosie, Becca and Gabe form The Dream Drummers. The musicians are dumbfounded when Jack Masters, a wealthy but eccentric environmentalist, invites them to perform at Carnegie Hall. Their visit to New York City is a huge success from a musical point of view, and Masters then flies the teens to Australia where they participate in the Scorched Earth concert, a music extravaganza broadcast to millions around the world in order to raise awareness about global warming.
This fairy tale, a true 'magical mystery tour,' takes on sinister overtones when it is apparent that the teens are more captives of Masters than his guests, and that Masters has gone from an environmental enthusiast to an unpredictable environmental maniac. His plans to save the planet may well destroy it, and the countdown clock to his 'surprise' is ominous. Ashley's unease causes her musical muse to virtually disappear, and her ability to truly listen to the world around her becomes almost nonexistent. She loses her connection and closeness to the pulse of the earth itself, something that has always reinforced and sustained her.
Bastedo considers not only ecology and science in this novel but also sociology. Ashley meets aborigines in Australia and realizes that the indigenous peoples of the planet have much in common, including an understanding of their environment and a relationship with it which has been lost to urbanites and indeed to most of us labelled 'intruders' by Jack Masters. The Sila of the novel's title is the very spirit of earth, herself, and global warming and the cataclysmic events which are consequences of it may well be her revenge after years of mistreatment, particularly after the unparalleled 'progress' of humans/intruders in recent decades.
Although aimed primarily at young adults and absolutely suitable for them in every way, this novel will be enjoyed by older teens and also by adults. There is a great deal of sound science underlying the adventure, travel and mystery, and the imaginative story is an excellent vehicle both for eliciting concern regarding the environment and for promoting steps for change. A central theme of the book is the tipping point beyond which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair the damage we have caused. The final pages of the book are dedicated to an interview with author Bastedo and 10 steps anyone can follow to help fight global warming. The novel leaves no doubt regarding the crisis facing us, but it also reinforces the idea that everyone, like eco-warrior Ashley, can make a change if only we channel knowledge and passion, head and heart, towards healing our planet for this generation and those to come.
This novel is entertaining yet provocative and deserves a priority spot on everyone's reading list as well as on library and classroom shelves.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and former teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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