CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 27. . . .March 18, 2011
Sinking Deeper: Or My Questionable (Possibly Heroic) Decision to Invent a Sea Monster.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2011.
168 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"Did you really have to break the window?" I asked Granddad Angus. "You could have just tapped on the door and I'd have opened it. I'm sure Dad keeps a key under the doormat."
"Breaking the window was much more dramatic," Granddad Angus explained. "You can't live the story of your life properly without the occasional addition of a little sudden drama."
Granddad Angus had a theory. He believed that life was nothing more than a story we told ourselves. A story that would not reveal its ending until we finally got there and found out just what we had been trying to tell ourselves all along.
"Hurry up," granddad Angus said. "The last thing I need is to be yelled at by Police Chief McTavish."
Let me see if I can hack down the family tree so that you can have a better look at each knothole and twig.
Police Chief McTavish is my dad. That makes me his son, which is what he usually calls me. Granddad Angus is my dad's dad, and I'm the one at the end – mostly stuck in the middle.
Have you got that straight?
I opened the outside door. The first thing I saw was Granddad Angus, wearing his kilt and his backwards fanny pack, a faded blue t-shirt that read, "Bagpipes Blow, Big Time," a pair of floppy, red plaid running shoes, and his magic fishing vest of many pockets. All of that and a grin so big and so wide he looked as if he was getting set to tell the entire known universe the single greatest knock-knock joke in history."
Welcome to Deeper Harbour, Nova Scotia, complete with fishing dories and the sounds of both bagpipes and the ocean. Other than that, Deeper Harbour doesn't have much to offer. There's no McDonalds and no movie theatre. Deeper Harbour hasn't even been on the main road for years because the new highway bypassed it. Fourteen-year-old Roland McTavish has grown up here and realizes the town is in trouble since the number of fishermen is small and there certainly isn't any tourism to speak of. When Roland's mother announces she and he are leaving town and moving to Ottawa, Roland has to think quickly in order to save himself and his hometown. He knows exactly what to do: invent a sea monster and stir up some publicity to put Deeper Harbour on the map. What a scheme!
Steve Vernon's love of Nova Scotia and his wicked sense of humour both come through loud and clear in the pages of Sinking Deeper, his first young adult novel. The atmosphere of the small town with its single restaurant and police force of one resonates with anyone who has had a small village experience. Vernon creates local colour using both the fishing industry and the Scottish heritage of the area. The townspeople are quirky and fun, particularly Roland's friend Dulsie who paints a "tattoo of the day" on her face since her dad won't allow her to get a real one. The two main adults in the sea monster caper are also humorous - Granddad Angus and Dulsie's father Warren. Yet both are helpful and dependable and come up with unexpectedly wise comments which seem to amaze the teenagers.
This novel is a wonderful comic ride. Vernon uses wordplay, such as the title of the novel, itself, to amuse readers. Far from being a typical hero, Roland is self-effacing and quick to find the humour both in his own crazy ideas as well as in the people and events around him. Will Fogopogo the sea monster – literally – sink or swim? Will anyone believe the story and, more importantly, come to Deeper Harbour in hopes of catching a glimpse of the local attraction? On another level, readers can see the workings of a small town, not just the bits of gossip and mischief but also how members of a small community can pull together and help one another when circumstances demand it. Vernon also plays with the idea of just what novel and creative plans a teenager can produce in order to avoid what appears to be a disaster – in this case, moving to Ottawa.
What is most touching in the novel is the relationship between Granddad Angus and Roland. Granddad is a big kid himself with the same energy and imagination as his grandson. The two are best friends, and yet Roland realizes more and more what a connection they have and just how much he can learn from Granddad Angus, "the most important person in my whole short life." (p. 159)
Whether you read Sinking Deeper as an adventure, a comedy, a story about family and relationships or as a travelogue to a small fishing community in Nova Scotia, you will not be disappointed. Steve Vernon is a virtuoso storyteller whose voice takes readers to unforgettable places and introduces them to amazing people.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON, but who would love to visit Deeper Harbour someday!
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