________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 38 . . . . June 4, 2010


Survivor’s Leave.

Robert Sutherland.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2010.
174 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-55380-097-2.

Subject Heading:
World War, 1939-1945-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Todd Kyle.

*** /4


“This is the captain speaking. All hands, prepare to abandon ship. Lower away all boats and floats. There is a destroyer on the way from Scapa. Thank you all, and good luck.”

Glen struggled out of his cockpit. “You know what this means, Ding? Survivor’s Leave. We qualify for Survivor’s Leave! And with any luck we won’t even get our feet wet. Maybe I’ll get to meet the Barclays after all. You still want to come?”

“Maybe. If the leave’s long enough I may get home to Canada. If not, sure I’ll come with you. And hope to meet your pal’s sisters.”

Only a short distance away, on board the submarine U-555, the captain turned away from the periscope and barked orders. He was not about to waste a torpedo on an obviously sinking ship. The U-555 had a more important mission. There was a strange-looking package in her torpedo room she was on orders to deliver. It was marked “Penraven.”


It’s 1944, and two 20-year-old Canadian able seamen, Glen Cassley and Arthur “Ding” Bell, find themselves on leave after their ship sinks and all on board survive. Looking for a relaxing time, they decide to visit the Barclay family in Croydon, England, where Glen has a pen pal. In the midst of the “doodlebug” bombing of London and its suburbs, Glen and Ding are invited to spend time with Susan Barclay, working on a manor farm in Cornwall named Penraven. Penraven turns out to be full of mystery, including a new local curate (Don) who turns out to be an undercover intelligence officer, a writer (Jim) who turns out to be an undercover Nazi, and a dungeon that leads to a cave overlooking the sea cliff. As it turns out, the Nazis are planning to unleash germ warfare from the cave, and only Glen, Susan, and Don can stop them.

     Survivor’s Leave is a fast-paced, action-filled adventure that generally lives up to what you’d expect. There is foreshadowing of the Nazi plot, hints of mysterious characters’ duplicity, dramatic war and civilian bombing scenes, all culminating in a classic moment where the villain (Jim) explains his plot to his soon-to-be victims. Although the bombing and its aftermath are quite graphic, the relationships amongst the young adults are innocent and uncomplicated, making it a rare example of a pre-teen novel about mostly adult characters.

     The bleak and beautiful scenery of the Cornish moor lands are evoked well, as are the budding romances of both Glen and Ding. The dialogue is a little tedious, with many characters speaking in long paragraphs without the ring of real speech. And Ding, despite the joke about his name, seems far less necessary a character than are Don, Jim, and the fascinating baronet of Penraven. The book is a bit of a hodgepodge, where the intermediate episode of the Croydon bombings does little to establish the plot, while one might have wanted to see more of Glen’s relationship with Susan with whom he shares a love of music.

     Still, there is real excitement towards the conclusion as the trio devise an ingenious method of killing all the bacteria – by burning down Penraven house. And that makes it satisfying enough to recommend as a decent, if not challenging, read, especially for the reluctant.


Todd Kyle, a public library manager in Mississauga, ON, has served on the jury of several children’s literature awards in both official languages.

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.