________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 16 . . . . December 16, 2011


Count Me In.

Sara Leach.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
176 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-155469-404-4.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Jillian Sexton.

***½ /4



Tabitha shivered on the riverbank, clutching Max. Just a few seconds in the river had frozen her. How was Ashley surviving so long?

Finally Cedar reached her. He grabbed her arm and pulled her through the water. Together they slipped and slid over the rocks. Twice, Ashley’s feet went out from under her. Only Cedar’s grip kept her from being swept downstream. They reached the other side of the bank, and Ashley collapsed onto the ground.

Tabitha is a city girl who is thoroughly uncomfortable with the outdoors. Unfortunately, her cousins, Cedar and Ashley, Aunt Tess, and their dog, Max, are the complete opposite, and now Tabitha must spend a weekend hiking, canoeing, and camping in the great outdoors with her extended family.

      Tabitha is miserable from the beginning of the trip. Her muscles ache, she is hungry, and Ashley seems to have made it her mission to make Tabitha feel as unwelcome as possible for the entire trip. Just as Tabitha has convinced herself that things could be much worse, a rainstorm washes out the river, and Tabitha’s family must stay at the cabin longer than expected. Running out of food and running into unexpected trouble, Tabitha and her cousins must band together to make it out of the woods alive.

      Leach’s novel is a gripping story for young readers, and it is impressive that, in a short book with accessible language, she has managed to capture suspense, realism, and an empathetic protagonist. The narrative unfolds at a mesmerizing pace, and the plot propels itself forward so that each page turn brings a new twist in the story.

      Perhaps the most captivating element of Count Me In lies in its realism. Both in the description of the physical landscape and the relationship between Tabitha and each of her family members, Leach has written a novel that is easy to visualize and understand. Setting her story at Lake Lovely Water in Squamish, BC, Leach provides descriptions of the water and mountains that leave nothing to be desired. Leach has also written the experiences of a pre-teen girl who feels like an outsider in every way true to life and not overly dramatic or unnecessarily complicated.

      Count Me In succeeds in every way. It is difficult to write a suspenseful story in clear language for young readers, but Leach has surmounted the obstacle, and the result is a story that is touching and powerful. Young readers (and older story lovers, too) will find this book too good to put down.

Highly Recommended.

Jillian Sexton has a BA in English from Memorial University of Newfoundland and is working on her MA in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia. She lives in St. John’s, NL.

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

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