CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 20. . . .January 28th, 2010.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2010.
215 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Grades 6-7 / Ages 11-12.
Review by Karen Rankin.
**1/2 / 4
"You must stay for supper, I insist. You have been very helpful," [Mrs. Tomblin] said, this time sounding like she was going to cry.
It was seven o'clock. Family dinnertime at the Creighton residence. Greg was a real stickler for this pseudo-family togetherness thing. Like chowing down together every night at seven o'clock somehow made us a family. Made us what he pictured was a family, but he was big on picturing his family. And at the moment, I was ruining that picture.
"I have to call my mother and...Greg to tell them I won't be home for supper." That was true, since it was already dinnertime.
She nodded and stood there, watching. Great, an audience. I fumbled through my knapsack and found my BlackBerry. Shut off. Swell. I had five missed calls, all from my mother.
This was going to be a fun conversation.
Before I could say any more, my mom launched into me. "I called you five times. Your phone was off. I was worried sick. I thought something happened to you. You don't know the city well. I thought maybe you got lost, or...you know what I mean."
I sighed, feeling awful. The city continued to freak her out. She hardly ever ventured out of our neighborhood without Greg or me - only for those rare lunches with former friends. We had never traveled outside of the province. Traveling to Toronto or Ottawa for us had been like traveling to London or Paris was for others.
"I'm really sorry. I didn't turn it off. It shut off by accident in my knapsack. I didn't notice until I took it out now to call you and say I wouldn't be home for dinner."
"What's the point of having a BlackBerry if you don't keep it on?"
I sighed again. She was right. I overheard her whispering something to Greg and him saying something back that I couldn't make out.
"So you remembered to call right at dinnertime? Thank you for that courtesy," she said in a clipped voice, now sounding more cross than concerned.
How much of this expressed her own feelings and how much of it was being said for Greg's approval, who could tell?
Thirteen-year-old Phoebe and her mother moved from their row house and low-budget life in Barrie, ON, to opulent Forest Hill, Toronto, when her mother married Greg, a wealthy doctor. It's summer now, and although Phoebe has been in Toronto for over a year, she hasn't managed to make many friends or to bond with her new stepfather. Her one good, new friend, Yuri, is away on vacation, but the girls stay in touch through texting and the internet. Phoebe's mother is afraid of looking hokey in her new, sophisticated social milieu. As a result, she has alienated Phoebe's beloved Barrie family. Phoebe hopes to remedy this situation. In the meantime, she doesn't want her mom and stepfather to know that she has few friends and little to do, and so she spends her time riding her bike through Forest Hill and reading Agatha Christie mysteries, which she and Yuri try to solve before Miss Marple does. Phoebe befriends Mrs. Tomblin, a lonely and elderly woman in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Tomblin has a collection of valuable photographs taken by her aunt, and she happens to shop at the grocery store where Colin, a boy Phoebe would like to know better, works. When Mrs. Tomblin's house is robbed, the police don't seem to take the matter as seriously as Phoebe and Colin think they should. With help from Yuri and Colin, Phoebe takes it upon herself to figure out who robbed Mrs. Tomblin. And she finally confronts her mother about her largely unfounded fear of social disgrace. As well, by the end of the novel, Phoebe comes to a new appreciation of her stepfather.
Phoebe is not an entirely credible character. Though supposedly into sports, such as soccer, tennis, swimming, and biking, she doesn't do much more than cruise Forest Hill on her new bike. And, for a 13-year-old who enjoyed playing with the boys and led a simple life in Barrie, her knowledge of Royal Albert china, old 35 mm cameras, the graduates of a Toronto private boys' school, and so forth, is not believable. Additionally, many of her opinions sound like those of a much older person. For instance, on Colin's debating the merits of Free Trade, Phoebe observes, "He'd argued with the smarts of a lawyer and spoken with the smoothness of a politician, a sincere one." While some of Posesorski's secondary and peripheral characters are well rounded - such as "Grandy" and Aunt Debbie - others tend to be stereotypical or one-dimensional. For instance, one of Phoebe's stepbrothers is the irreverent but good-hearted gay guy, the other the sniveling, selfish son.
Old Photographs moves along at a good pace, and - like any good mystery - readers are given enough clues to ponder who has committed the crime. The plot is believable, even when Phoebe decides she'll have to take matters into her own hands if the police are ever to recover Mrs. Tomblin's stolen property. Phoebe's "set-up" is clever and her "stake-out" is a nail-biter.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer of children's stories.
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