________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 7. . . .October 16, 2009


Flight of the Wild Geese.

T.D. Thompson.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2009.
122 pp., pbk, $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-894717-51-9.

Subject Headings:
Single-paretn families-Juvenile fiction.
Fathers and sons-Juvenile fiction.
Adventure and adventurers-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Beth Wilcox.

***½ /4



Day to day concerns with preparing meals and keeping warm had brought life down to a basic level, which, in theory at least, was supposed to heal Dad's wounds. All I knew was that we were finally setting up a more permanent camp and maybe now the work of healing and finding peace and strength could finally get started, since the sooner Dad felt he'd resolved his issues, the sooner we could head back home again. All I really wanted anymore was to be able to go into my own room and close the door.

But before any of that could happen we needed a more permanent shelter than the tents could afford. And by the time the Aunts got through drawing up floor plans in the snow, selecting the straightest saplings, pointing out the spongiest pine boughs and generally bossing everybody around, we found to our own surprise we'd actually constructed a rudimentary lodge of sorts.


T.D. Thompson's first novel, Flight of the Wild Geese, is the complex and emotionally intense story of 15-year-old Dave's healing journey into the Alberta foothills, a journey that teaches Dave about himself, community, spirituality and acceptance. After the frozen body of Dave's estranged mother, Marie, is found in the ravine near their family home, it becomes apparent that she had been living a hard life on the streets of Edmonton. Dave narrates the novel in first person, and he is quick to dismiss his own grief when he compares it with the reaction of his father, Mike. Caught up in his intense sorrow, Mike decides to take his son out into the bush to live, as Dave puts it, "like the Indians in the old times," in order to find a way of dealing with Marie's death. Marie was Cree, but Mike has no Aboriginal ancestry; he is "a sort of born-again Indian." Mike has a strong respect for the First Nations cultures and traditions, but "he knows he's not native, and he has a special disdain for people who take on some Indian-sounding name and pretend to be something they're not."

     There is a recurrent motif of roots in the novel that suggests the importance of drawing identity from spiritual connections rather than a reliance on genetic ties. When Dave and his father set out on horseback to live in the bush, they are begrudgingly accompanied by their extended family, including the Aunts (Helen and Edith who are Cree elders), the Aunts' nephew Jamie, and 19-year-old Lisa, a strange girl whom Dave had never met. Lisa, as it is later revealed, is Dave's maternal half-sister who was placed in foster care as a child. Dave's extended family is created from informal adoptive bonds that rely on emotional connections rather than blood-ties. The Aunts have no evident biological relationship with Dave and Mike. Instead, they assumed their role as extended family when they saw a need for their support after Marie left. While Dave initially denies their familial bond, their experiences in the bush make it overwhelmingly apparent that, regardless of what Dave says, these people have become his family.

     Armed with the guidance of the adventurous elders, weekly supply top-ups from Mike's friend Pete on his snowmobile, parkas and sleeping bags, the group sets out on their healing journey. Cut off from the life to which he is accustomed, Dave soon falls in love with the mysterious Lisa and imagines she feels the same. It is clear Dave's father is keeping a secret, but Dave does not know what it is until Jamie, overcome with feverish delusions, reveals that Lisa is Dave's half-sister. While the reader may have suspected this revelation, it is understandable that Dave was completely unaware and is shocked. Dave, propelled by the clouded thoughts brought on from starvation, the madness of betrayal and a broken heart, runs away from the camp. After Dave loses his shoes and sleeping bag, his body slowly begins to succumb to the cold. As Dave drifts in and out of consciousness, he is visited by his mother in the form of the majestic mountain lion that he had shot and killed weeks earlier. Dave's mother warms him until he is rescued by Mike and Pete. Once Dave is found, there is a break in the chapter. When Dave resumes narration, he is looking back at the experience from a few weeks later, and he briefly meditates on the changes the trip produced in his family.

      The journey to the bush matures Dave in a very real way. While the book could have quite easily ended with Dave's rescue, in the final pages Dave explains how the trip has opened his eyes to the difficult realization that the world, including his own sense of self, is not as clear as he had thought. Arguably, this has been revealed through Dave's journey and did not need to be explicitly stated at the end.

      T.D. Thompson has created poignantly realistic characters by skilfully refraining from inserting authorial judgments on their motives and psychology. Instead, he leaves it to the gaps in Dave's perception to reveal the complexities of the characters. For instance, Thompson makes it possible for the reader to befriend Jamie and realize there is more to him than what he tells Dave. Dave only acknowledges the possibility that he may have misjudged Jamie after the trip. During the journey, Dave keeps dismissing Jamie's clownish ways as irritating immaturity while the reader is left to wonder if Jamie is hiding his feelings behind an act of disrespect and nonchalance.

      Although it is only 122 pages in length, Flight of the Wild Geese is a compact and emotionally charged novel. Thompson portrays the maturing of an adolescent boy with sensitivity and refuses to offer easy answers. While some of Dave's circumstances and experiences are unique, the basic themes of heartbreak, loss and the struggle for self identity make Flight of the Wild Geese a story to which many adolescent readers would relate.

Highly Recommended.

Beth Wilcox is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

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

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