________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 2 . . . . September 9, 2011


Box of Shocks.

Chris McMahen.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
160 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-917-9.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Jessica Kluthe.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



On the first day of school, Mom drives me because she wants to meet my new teacher. Talk about embarrassing!

Another reason Mom drives me is that it's raining. She always drives me when there's even a small chance of rain. I tell her I won't dissolve if I get wet, but she won't listen to reason. She smiles and laughs as if I'm joking.

Even when it's sunny without a single cloud in the sky, she'll come up with some excuse to drive me to school. "It's on my way to work, so I may as well give you a lift," or "I have to have a word with the principal about the next Parent Advisory Council meeting." But the real reason Mom insists on driving me to school is that she sees danger everywhere. I've been hearing about 'stranger danger' and runaway cars my whole life.

Chris McMahen creates a whole world around Oliver. Those that populate his life--from his classmates like Stenchly, a skunk-trapper, to his whiny, tattletale cousin Stuart and overprotective, health-conscious mother--are memorable characters. The settings where daring young Oliver carries out his secret adventures and collects his shocks (souvenirs to remember the experience) are vivid. From the creepy Milburn house with the "glow coming form somewhere deep inside," to Aunt Jean and Uncle Ned's farm with one cow and numerous cow patties, the scenes move quickly with enough detail to easily imagine Oliver there and see him carrying out his risky plans.

      Not only can readers see this world, but it is also filled with internal and external sounds. Readers can hear Oliver's inner thoughts, when, for instance, "a voice in [his] head screams, 'RUN! RUN! RUN!'" and the external noises like the "uneven thump-thump" of zombie-like Mr. Milburn making his way to his front door.

      While readers are invited into Oliver's world, it would be easier for young readers to connect with this dynamic character if they knew his exact age. Is he a peer? A little older than the targeted audience?

      The biggest shock of all comes from an unplanned event. Oliver attempts to retrieve his box of shocks, an important item left behind in his old house. Here, he comes face-to-face with a new classmate who, despite now living in his old bedroom in the upper-level of his old house, does not have the kind of life, or the supportive, loving parents that Oliver has. While Oliver has come face-to-face with his scary neighbour, Mr. Milburn, a dangerous dog, Spike McChomp, and the police, it is this unplanned experience wherein he comes face-to-face with himself and the awareness that he has a great life (even if his parents get on his nerves) that has the most impact.

      Box of Shocks is a memorable story, full of age-appropriate jokes and sayings, and a plot that moves along quickly enough to hook even the most reluctant reader.

Highly Recommended.

Jessica Kluthe is a recent MFA graduate in Writing at the University of Victoria and is currently writing an Italian-Canadian memoir.

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

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