________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 15 . . . . December 9, 2011


Charlie’s Key.

Rob Mills.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
254 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-872-1.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Alison Pattern.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“He has a watch,” I say.

“We had to take it off,” says the doctor. “Because of the edema.”

“The swelling,” says the nurse. “That’s making him puffy. You’ll get it back…”

She doesn’t finish what she’s saying but I guess what it is, and that’s the first time I feel myself getting soft inside, feel stuff coming up to my eyes and that soft sizzling in my nose. And right then the doctor and the nurse and the cops and the noise all kind of disappear and it’s just me and my dad, and it is my dad, I see now. There’s that scar, and the white hair poking straight up in his eyebrow, and a dent where his watch was, I can feel it when I put my hand on his.

“Dad,” I say, leaning down close to whisper to him, even though it hurts my head to bend over. “Dad, it’s me Charlie.”

He doesn’t say anything. I knew he wouldn’t, but he might have. Maybe. But he doesn’t. Just lays there, still, warm. Then I feel his hand twitch and twitch again. I put both my hands around his. And then, just a tiny bit, it opens. Then a bit more, and I feel something drop out of it, small, hard, hot in my palm. A key. I can tell without even looking.

The story begins with Charlie, a boy who grew up in Fort MacMurry, waking up in a hospital in Newfoundland. He knows he was in an accident with his father, but everything about Charlie seems to have a layer of mystery. His mother died during child birth, and, as far as he knows, he has no other family, and he is even uncertain about why he is in Newfoundland.

      Eventually a doctor takes him to see his father. As Charlie comforts his father, he realizes his father is about to die. His father takes his last breaths and drops a key into Charlie’s hand. It’s a key Charlie hasn’t seen before. He has no idea what it opens, if anything at all. Charlie only knows it must be important. He is now alone, with only the police officers who seem to know more then they’re letting on.

     When Charlie meets with a Social Services agent, he learns that he is not alone. He has two living relatives, a great aunt too old to care for Charlie, and an uncle, who happens to have been recently released from prison after serving a sentence for murder. Nick eventually tracks Charlie down and attempts to get Charlie’s key. Charlie isn’t sure if he should trust this uncle he’s never met or heard of and leads him on a chase through St. John.

     Newfoundland is the perfect setting for a mystery. As the story climaxes, Charlie is running through the fog up Signal Hill. Charlie’s being chased with the threat of falling off a cliff into the ocean only adds to the drama. The landscape is threatening; sheer cliffs and booming ocean waves offer a cold menacing backdrop that makes Charlie and the other characters seem more vulnerable at times.

     This suspenseful mystery keeps the reader engaged as more of Charlie’s world is revealed. The characters are complex, and, as the story unfolds, readers learn more about the events that led Nick to jail and Charlie’s father to Fort MacMurry. Moral truth and lies are central themes, and Charlie does an excellent job navigating his new world armed only with his intellect. Charlie is a very likeable character, one to whom readers will easily relate.

     In addition to the major themes, censorship and literacy are issues which are also brought up and could instigate conversation in a classroom.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Pattern is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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