CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2011.
Windfall. (Orca Currents).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
117 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (RLB.).
ISBN 978-1-55469-849-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55469-850-9 (RLB.).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Philip Bravo.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“One afternoon I got a call from the police. Richard had gone into someone’s yard and taken a few apples. The people who lived there were not happy. To them he was just some dirty intruder.” Mitchell shakes his head. “Poor Richard”
“What happened?” Olive and I chorus. We’re horrified.
“If you were the police, what would you do? The officers led Richard out of the yard, but there was no way they were going to arrest him. They could have charged him with trespass and theft. The homeowners wanted them to.
The police asked me to talk them [sic]. I sat at their kitchen table, and I told them Richard was harmless. I told them he had gotten confused. I said he would never trespass again. That’s what they wanted to hear.
“It was weeks before Richard stopped trembling. I did my best to comfort him, but he didn’t sleep well for many nights.”
Mitchell reached for the teapot and topped up our cups. “The saddest thing was that Richard didn’t even pick those apples,” he said. “He just gathered windfall.”
“Windfall?” I asked.
“Apples that fall to the ground because of wind or the simple pull of gravity.”
Mitchell looked at us sadly. “When I was a boy, my mom would ask me, ‘If a hungry man steals a loaf of bread, is it really stealing?’ I believe food can’t be stolen. Hunger is different from greed.”
The homeless, apple trees, community gardening, the politics of food, coping with death and meeting cute boys are the themes of Sara Cassidy’s latest book, Windfall. Somehow, Sara Cassidy weaves these themes together producing a fast, entertaining read suitable for young teens. The novel is a first person narrative about Liza, a charming, idealistic and precocious 13-year-old coping with the death of a homeless man befriended by her family. Richard lived in the neighbourhood park and spent most of his time sitting on a bench underneath an old apple tree. Liza’s family befriended Richard, offering him food and company occasionally. While Liza sorts through her guilt and remorse, she learns that Richard struggled to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables. Liza is also saddened by the possibility that she may lose a treasured apple tree in her family’s back yard. During a conversation with an arborist, Liza discovers that the apple tree is over 100 years old and part of an orchard planted when the area was a farm. A local historian describes the history of the region and the politics of food production. A sick apple tree, orchards and the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables for the homeless compel Liz to convene a meeting of her friends.
So, Liza and the Girls (and Boys) for Renewable Resources, Really! (GRRR and BRRR) meet to plan a community garden on their school’s property. The foil to Liza’s plans is Mrs. Reynolds, the recalcitrant and rigid principal of their middle school. Mrs. Reynolds doesn’t approve of the group’s activism and suggestions for the school, such as their organizing a fund raising event to help purchase solar panels for the school. While Liza, GRRR! and BRRR! plan strategies to circumvent Mrs. Reynolds’s authority, Liza meets Niall, “the cutest boy in the school!” Niall and Liza become fast friends, GRRR and BRRR plant the community garden out of Mrs. Reynolds’s sight, and she is forced to accept it as a fait accompli. In the process, Liza learns a few lessons about accepting death, local history and dating.
Although the book’s politics and activist message may not appeal to all parents or teachers, this charming book about teen activism lives up to the high expectations set by Sara Cassidy’s first novel, Slick. Published as part of the “Orca Currents” series and written with reluctant readers in mind, Windfall is a fast-paced, fun and interesting novel.
Philip Bravo is a librarian with the Winnipeg Public Library.
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