________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 36. . . .May 21, 2010



Terry Griggs.
Emeryville, ON: Biblioasis (Distributed in Canada by LITDISTCO), 2010.
250 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-897231-87-6.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Vikki VanSickle.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



On the teacher’s desk sat a purse big as a bowling bag and made of brown fur. Muskrat, Nieve guessed. Mr. Crawley went straight for this, unfastened its claw clasp, then plunged her hand in and began to dig around. This produced some squelching noises and even an alarmed squeak. Shortly, she pulled out a long black tin which she held up triumphantly, while repeating, “Special treats!” She gave the tin a little shake, and by the sounds of it the contents might easily have been marbles or stones. They turned out to be jawbreakers.

After prying off the lid, Ms. Crawley walked up and down the aisle again, letting everyone choose a candy. Nobody hesitated, nor was there any hemming-and-hawing about which one to take since the jawbreakers were all identical: each one was white with a large black dot in the centre. When Nieve reluctantly chose hers, she inspected it briefly- it reminded her of an eyeball- then set it down on her desk as far away as possible. Her fingers had felt funny holding it, sort of tingly, and there was no way she was going to put it in her mouth.

The other kids in the class weren’t as fussy, though, and having been told they didn’t have to wait until recess to enjoy their candies, were chewing and slurping noisily on them. In fact, Ms. Crawley insisted that they eat the immediately by urging, smoothly and smilingly, “No point in saving yours, Ben. Your friend has his eye on it. That’s it, Susan, aren’t they scrumptious? James, don’t be a slowpoke, I might want to sample it myself, they’re so irresistible.”

Griggs' novel, the first in a projected trilogy, is not for the faint of heart. It has true-blue villains, unsettling imagery, and is down-right creepy at times. The novel opens with a series of odd events in Nieve’s usually sleepy hometown. The gardens and forests are being overrun with strange, noxious weeds. People are becoming more and more sluggish and have started to lose their memories. The situation takes a turn for the worse when people start to go missing, including Nieve’s own parents. Nieve suspects the mysterious strangers, all in black, who seem to be taking over her village. With the help of her Gran and a mysterious stranger, Lias, who claims to be from “the old country,” Nieve decides to take matters into her own hands.

    Griggs is clearly an accomplished wordsmith. Her world is well imagined, and her description is often unique and surprising. There are some clever inventions, such as runners made of leaves that allow Nieve to run incredibly fast, and jaw breakers that spy on their consumers. Readers will be particularly taken with the visual nature of Griggs’ prose.

     The novel takes a long time to get going, and there are quite a few characters to keep track of. Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t spend a lot of time learning about all of them, and it can be difficult to remember who the characters are and what their relationships are to Nieve. More detail is necessary to differentiate between this large cast of characters. At times, I also found the plot a bit muddy and lacking in explanation.

     There are elements in the novel that felt like a nod to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, such as the creepy “Other Mother” type figure Elixibyss, who may or may not be related to Nieve, and the foreboding atmosphere than permeates the novel. Griggs' narrative, however, is not as tightly constructed nor as powerful as Gaiman’s modern classic. Griggs' dark, quirky fantasy will appeal to strong readers who are looking for something a little left of centre.

Recommended with reservations.

Vikki VanSickle holds a Masters in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia. Currently, she is the manager of the Flying Dragon Bookshop in Toronto, ON. Her first children’s novel, Words that Start with a B, will be released this September from Scholastic Canada.

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

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