________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 21. . . .February 4, 2011.


Loon Island. (The Red Line Series).

Donna Firby Gamache.
Montréal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2011.
140 pp., pbk, $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-77080-070-0.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Karen Boyd.


Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Alex understood that his mom was worried and stressed out. He just didn’t get how a holiday this close to home was going to help. Especially a holiday on an island in the Lake of the Woods. The lake was where his father had died. It was the place where his father had betrayed them.

Fourteen-year-old Alex O’Grady is a loner by circumstance rather than choice. Three years ago, his father was implicated in a local bank robbery. That event left his father drowned and the family scarred. In the small town of Kenora, Alex, his mother and his younger sisters cannot escape the stares and the gossip that accompany his father’s action. Nor can they escape the shame and anger that they feel, along with their grief. In an attempt to get a break, Alex’s mother takes the family to Loon Island to camp. Too close to Kenora to really feel away, Alex tries to maintain his low profile, but he is befriended by Jerry, a weird kid from Winnipeg who is working through his own family issues. Together, Alex and Jerry stumble on an island mystery that puts them in danger but also helps Alex to find closure and move forward from his past.

     Loon Island is marketed as a “short, high low novel” with a readability of 3.5. It was very easy to forget while reading this novel that it had a controlled vocabulary for reluctant readers. The story and the characters are engaging and well developed. While it is difficult to fully develop a mystery in this format, Gamache has done an excellent job in supporting the reader while never talking (or writing) down to her audience. Alex is a typical teenager. He has his moments of sullenness, rebellion, pettiness, and self-absorption. At the same time, he genuinely cares about his mother and sisters and demonstrates empathy and thoughtfulness towards Jerry. Jerry is an excellent partner for Alex. While one is introverted, the other one is clearly an extrovert, to the point of annoyance. The two boys build on each other’s strengths and learn to trust a true friend.

     A well-developed cast of adults also supports Alex and Jerry. Alex’s mother is dealing with her own issues, and Jerry’s stepdad is struggling to define his own role as “father.” Alex worries that adults are judging him based on his father’s actions, but, as the story develops, Gamache leads the reader to believe that Alex’s own feelings are isolating him rather than the feelings of others. Even Alex’s uncle, just released from prison for the bank robbery, is not portrayed as the stereotypical villain.

Uncle Carl gave him a strange look. “What about your dad’s life insurance?” he asked.

“They didn’t pay up,” Alex muttered. Then he added, with anger his uncle couldn’t’ miss, “Under the circumstances, you know!”

“I never thought of that…Those insurance guys never lose, do they!” He spat out the words.

“I guess not, “said Alex. He glared at Uncle Carl, who shifted his eyes away.

“That wasn’t part of my plan,” his uncle muttered.

     Loon Island is a straightforward mystery that keeps the reader engaged even when it is clear what is going to happen. The additional elements of crime, trust, betrayal, and family dynamics create a rich story that will appeal to a variety of readers, readers who are interested in different genres and topics but also have a variety of reading levels. Gamache has created a rare book that provides the opportunity for reluctant readers to share a text with more accomplished readers with both of them enjoying the text.


Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the bachelor of education program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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