________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 24 . . . . February 24, 2012


Trouble in the Hills.

Helaine Becker.
Toronto, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011.
203 pp., trade pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-174-3.

Subject Heading:
Adventure-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Rob Bittner.

*** /4



“Nooo!” Cam yelled, as gravity and his fricking bike and his fricking useless shoe dragged him closer and closer to the cliff.

Cam flung his free leg wide, hoping to brace himself and stop his fall. But the motion only cartwheeled him around. He grabbed at whatever he could to stop his slide, but none of it made a difference. Not the pine saplings that uprooted themselves as left him clutching stem, needles, and dirt-clogged roots. Not the slippery young shoots that greened the slop and slid through his fists like corn silk.

The bike was going over, and Cam was going with it.

Cam is a typical teenager—if teenage years can really ever be considered typical—fighting with his father, avoiding chores, and feeling very much picked on. After one particular argument with his dad, Cam decides to vent his frustration and anger by biking up a mountain on the other side of town. Unfortunately, Cam’s plan becomes much more that he expected when his bike gets out of control and he finds himself in a precarious situation, stuck on the mountain at night, with aches, pains, a fever, and other dangers he is entirely unprepared for, including drug runners, wild animals, and a young girl who has escaped from a gang of human traffickers.

      In the beginning, I was unsure of what to expect from Trouble in the Hills. Having read a number of novels in the past few months that deal with drug-running and young people struggling to survive in the wilderness, there was the possibility that this novel would simply become another in a long line of formulaic teen survival novels. I am happy to report that Helaine Becker has not fallen into that trap. The novel is action-packed from the beginning, opening mis-en-scene with Cam and Samira running for their lives from helicopters and gun-fire. I was engaged with the story the entire way through, becoming more invested in the plight of the protagonists with each turn of the page.

      Cam, as I said earlier, is a “typical” teenager, which made me hope that I would not be stuck reading 200 pages of teen angst and ranting about how unfair the world is, and my prayers were answered. Becker keeps some of the angst and frustration in Cam’s voice but shows him developing a much more mature and sophisticated worldview as the narrative flows. I was a bit unsure of Cam’s voice at times, as the language did not always seem true to his way of acting and his internal monologues. I was expecting some slightly harsher language from him and found the internal censoring of such language a little bit off-putting. However, his overall character and personality make him a convincing protagonist, worthy of a reader’s emotional investment.

      Samira is also a well-constructed and convincing character, struggling to reach her father in the United States by crossing the border illegally. Her fear and anxiety are her main driving factors, but, as we learn about her past and the struggles of trying to reach her father again, she moves beyond a stock damsel-in-distress character. Her relationship with Cam moves very quickly; however, this is believable as the two are running on adrenaline and fear for most of the novel.

      Becker has written a novel that is fast-paced and (sometimes unbelievably, but still convincingly) complex, weaving together multiple themes and plots for a teen audience. I did feel, at times, as if the combination of drugs and human trafficking was a bit much, Becker does not let the plot get out of control, even if it wavers on believability in the last few chapters. Her style suits the novel and the protagonists well, though I did feel that the narrative was a bit heavy on metaphors at times. Overall, I was quite impressed with the quality and complexity of the text.


Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

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

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