________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 19. . . .January 21, 2011


A Girl Called Tennyson.

Joan Givner.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2010.
260 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-83-6.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Darleen Golke

***1/2 /4



The circle of light grew bigger and brighter all the time as they headed into it and out of the dark tunnel. Then they came out onto the shore of an inlet or a lake.

There was a row of buildings all along the shoreline, and Tenn could see that they were not houses exactly but glass domes set upon wooden structures with doors in them, and they were of all different sizes, like clumps of huge mushrooms. When they drew closer, men, women, and children came out, and stood watching them. Some reached out and touched them in a friendly way as they passed by.

They headed towards a large dome at the end of the row. When they reached it, the door opened and a young girl, about Tenn's own age, stepped out and stood there smiling.

"You did it!' she said.

The man who was carrying Tenn stooped down and the woman helped her climb off his back she was stiff from being so long in one position and steadied her as she stood on the ground.

The young girl stared intently at Tenn for a few seconds, then took her hand and led her towards the door. As they went inside, Tenn looked back to see if the man and the woman were following, but they were nowhere in sight.

The girl who took Tenn's hand was called Una. She lived in the dome with her parents Octavia and Brock, her brother, Quintus, and her sister, Tertia. It was Una who became Tenn's guide to the Greensward, for that was the name of the settlement to which Tenn's rescuers had brought her. Una was a gentle soul and, during those first hours when Tenn was so confused and afraid, Una never left her side.


A short trip to Salish Island to spend a month with her grandmother goes awry when Tenn (Anne Tennyson Miller) notices unfamiliar aspects of the ferry and the people. The ferry lands, and Tenn sees not her grandmother, but a "tall authoritarian figure in a kind of military uniform." An explosion distracts him allowing two figures to shepherd Tenn away through a tunnel to the settlement of Greensward and Una's family. Tenn must adjust to her new surroundings and the strangeness of the language, culture, and dynamics of life in another time frame in this time travel fantasy.

      Tenn adapts and earns her place in the family with the stories she tells them garnered from classical literature, especially Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Tenn learns there is "a shortage of children in the Greensward," the "Great Dearth," so "birthers" share children with "dopters." However, another part of the island, The Other Place, experiences the same dearth and solves the problem by kidnapping children from wherever it can. The attempt to kidnap Tenn had failed the first time, but the kidnappers return for another attempt, mistakenly kidnapping Una instead. The local wise woman, Bethan, trains Tenn to negotiate a series of barriers that include deadly quicksand, treacherous waterfalls, wolves, and snakes to cross to the Other Place and rescue Una and return her home.

      Tenn succeeds in reaching Una who is enjoying the luxuries afforded her by her new "parents" and proves reluctant to leave. Danger opens her eyes, and, with the help of a group of cleaners, the girls escape to an encampment outside the city where the outcasts, rejected as unacceptable, live. Bethan's twin sister, Magda, a healer and wise woman in the Other Place, helps the girls survive in the encampment and eventually takes them to the city at festival time to be spirited away from the military environment to another encampment in the woods where other child escapees survive as best they may. Tenn convinces them all must attempt to return to the Greensward. She has schooled Una in the protocol for crossing back and shares the information with the older children. The group manages successfully to negotiate the obstacles, albeit with complications as winter has set in. The stones Tenn had used to cross the quicksand now sink under the weight of the children so that, by the time Tenn crosses, she sinks within steps of the shore. Fortunately, Bethan rescues her, Tenn recovers, and Bethan promises to help Tenn return to her time and home accompanied by Una, but she does not explain the means of transport home.

      A former English professor at the University of Regina, past editor of the Wascana Review, scholarly researcher and writer, biographer, and author of the "Ellen Fremeden" series, Givner, who now lives on Vancouver Island, presents her fifth middle year's adventure and first fantastic fiction novel. She eschews a modern setting to revert to a past time that reflects her growing up in England in place names and the present time living on Vancouver Island in landscape descriptions. Givner explains her choice of creating a fictional past time world: "I am ill-equipped to reproduce the idiom of today's youth, or to depict their high tech games and skills."

      The complexity and nuances of the English language Tenn encounters in the past produce some amusing misunderstandings and effectively reflect Givner's fascination with and command of language. Her protagonist brings the literature of stories, poems, and songs to literature-deprived archaic Greensward and to the military Other Place. "She is strong and she has the gift of memory," wise woman Bethan insists; both characteristics ensure a successful quest to rescue not only Una but other stolen children. Tenn arrives in the past on a ferry, but the means of returning to her own time remains unclear. Plenty of action, contrasting cultures and political situations, the classical good versus evil theme, unusual characters, an appealing protagonist, and well-paced prose combine to present a fantasy to transport readers from their daily reality to another world. The open-ended conclusion suggests the possibility of a sequel so middle readers may anticipate the further adventures of Tenn and Una.


Darleen Golke writes from Abbotsford, BC.

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

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