________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 22 . . . . February 10, 2012


What Happened to Serenity?

P.J. Sarah Collins.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press/Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011.
217 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-889954-53-3.

Subject Headings:
Science fiction-Juvenile literature.
Values-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Charlotte Duggan.

*** /4



My teachers tell me that polite people do not ask questions, that I should release my individual thoughts and focus on our Manifesto. I wonder what it would be like to use questions as a part of normal speech. I wish I could talk openly with my parents about the note, but we don't ever do that as a family. My parents only care about one thing since I started my last level at school.

Their voices echo in my head.

"Don't ask questions and you'll get assigned a good Role after Break," Mom says.

"Listen to your mom," Dad grumbles. "It's for the best."

The note [see excerpt above] that Katherine has found excites her natural, adolescent curiosity, despite her understanding the dire consequences of pursuing the answers. Long suppressed questions about the "Community" begin to surface. At first, the setting of Katherine's isolated and austere "Community" seems familiar: a 19th-century pioneer community perhaps? Or maybe this is a modern-day, cloistered religious community? As the constructs of the Community are revealed in intriguing and subtle bits of information, and readers struggle to locate the story in time and place, Katherine struggles with questions she's told not to have. Readers wonder right along with her: "What really happened during the Ecological Revolution?" The sense of something sinister grows as more details about the "Community" become clear.

      Then one night, a young girl named Serenity goes missing. Serenity's disappearance, and the Community's official response of silence, deeply disturb Katherine and diminish her resolve to conform. Katherine's inner turmoil nicely matches the suspenseful plot, as Katherine hunts for answers to her questions. Author Sarah Collins maintains the tension of the story as it builds towards an exciting climax. Unfortunately, Collins extends the story far past the "big reveal" of the truth about the Community. The sudden introduction of new characters, plot information and ideas is simply anticlimactic.

      Katherine is a strong and interesting character. Her relationships with her family, teachers and friends are well conceived and realistic. The tension between Katherine and her mother is an especially authentic and touching portrayal of the mother-daughter relationship.

      Katherine's need to understand the mysterious truth about the Community raises interesting and larger questions about the rights and responsibilities of the individual within a family and a community. The challenge of building an ideal society is another important topic explored in this novel. Even though this Community has slid far away from its original underpinning values, it is clear that good and well-intentioned people were involved in its conception.

      While most young people, probably girls aged 12 to 14, will be more focussed on the entertaining mystery and engaging characters, What Happened to Serenity? is an ideal addition to a middle school dystopian literature collection.


Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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