________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 39. . . .June 11, 2010


The Kayak.

Debbie Spring.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2010.
190 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-71-3.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Rachel Siegel.

**½ /4



The clouds move in, warning signs. I turn the kayak and head back to my point of departure. The waves peak wildly as the storm threatens. My arms ache.

I don't want to go back to shore. My parents treat me the same now as when I was a child, not wanting to admit that I'm seventeen and grown-up.

Just off my bow, a loon preens its black mottled feathers. I stare at its white throated necklace. It sounds its piercing cry and disappears under the water. I hold my breath, waiting for it to resurface. Time slows. Finally, the loon reappears in the distance. I exhale.

I notice a windsurfer with a flashy neon green and purple sale gaining on me. My stomach does flip flops as he races, dangerously close. "Look out!" I yell. I quickly steer out of the way. He just misses me.

Stupid Kid, he's not even wearing a life jacket. I shake my head. The boy is out of control. He's heading straight for the rocks at Cousin Island. "Drop the sail!" I call.

He does and not a second too soon. He just misses a jagged rock. I slice through the waves and grab onto his white surfboard.

"Can you get back to shore?" I ask.

"I don't know what I'm doing. His voice trembles. Is it from the cold?

The windsurfer looks about my age. I glance at his tanned muscles and sandy, blond hair. He seems vulnerable and afraid.


For 17-year-old Teresa, life in a wheelchair is hardly a picnic. Ever since the hit-and-run accident that put her in there, she has felt helpless and confined. To make matters worse, her parents treat her like a child and don't seem to realize that she's nearly grown up. But on the lake it's different. She spends her whole year looking forward to her family's camping trips to Georgian Bay where she spends as much time as possible in the kayak. When she's out in her kayak, she can forget about the wheelchair and get away from her annoying little sister, the stresses of teenage life, and especially from her overbearing parents. One day, while she's out for an afternoon paddle, a sudden storm churns the water. Out in the distance, she notices a windsurfer in distress, and she realizes it's up to her to rescue him. When the windsurfer turns out to be a handsome boy about her age, the course of Teresa's summer suddenly changes. As their relationship grows, she learns to overcome her insecurities and begins to try new things. But relationships are complicated, and as the summer progresses, she will also discover that people's motives are not always as straightforward as they seem.

     As Debbie Spring did in her previous novel, Breathing Soccer, she once again looks at overcoming physical limits in this expanded version of her same-named short story. Teresa is an interesting character, and not simply because of her disability. In fact, she is a well-developed, realistic teenager who also happens to be in a wheelchair. At nearly 18, Teresa finds her parents to be a huge source of frustration, and she sees them as overprotective and suffocating. This feeling is only amplified by her wheelchair and the loss of much of her independence. As a result of her accident, Teresa has also forced herself into social isolation, and unlike her little sister, who immediately makes friends with a girl of similar age, she is suspicious of the other teens staying on the campground. Keenly aware of her limitations, she often feels on the outside when she is unable to participate in their activities. Boys are also a new ground for Teresa, and in the setting of a campground, the complicatedness of teen romantic triangles are made even more acute. Teresa's new relationships also help her to grow, and she learns a lot about herself and her capabilities.

      The language is vivid and descriptive, and the author's knowledge and passion for her subject really shine through. Kayaking is clearly something Spring knows well, and she transmits that through her characters. Teresa's voice changes when she's talking about kayaking and being on the water, and the confidence she feels when she's involved in the sport she loves makes her seem like a different character than the one readers see when she's on land.

      What keeps this book from being excellent is the romantic storyline. The introduction of a second older boy seemed contrived and unnecessary, and their entire relationship seemed to exist solely to introduce a plot twist, which also seemed a bit too convenient and was annoying rather than shocking. Had the novel been longer, the author might have been able to draw him out a bit better, but in such a compact story, the author should have stayed more focused on the main story, without trying to throw in extra complications.


Rachel Siegel is the Selection Manager-Elementary with S&B Books Ltd. in Mississauga, ON.

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

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