CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 4. . . .September 23, 2011
Unto the Breach.
N.P.: Order from www.sidneygale.com, 2010.
232 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Rob Bittner.
Nothing but darkness. Not a black darkness, but an eerie, other-worldly greenish-hued darkness. And within this darkness, Eric tumbled and spun, not knowing which way was up and which was down. And then, with a sudden jerk his lifejacket inflated and like a rocket, he was thrust toward the surface. But, to Eric's horror, his rise to the surface suddenly stopped as a piercing, knife-like pain gutted him, the safety rope ensnaring his waist. A moment later he felt a hammer-like blow to his head as he smacked into the keel. Then he was immobile, imprisoned below the surface, the safety rope tethering him to the starboard side of the boat, the lifejacket trying in vain to lift him up on the port side.
Three boys—Eric, Rob, and Anthony—and Mr. B, their teacher, go on a sailing trip on Lake Ontario instead of attending a camp with the rest of the Grade 7 class. The adventure ends up being much more dangerous and traumatizing than they ever thought when a routine task goes horribly awry and the boys are suddenly put into a very difficult position. While attempting to get back across the lake to a hospital, the boys are forced to confront past animosities, and Anthony must overcome his place as second in command in order to save a life.
Sidney Gale's novel, Unto the Breach—the title of which alludes to both the name of Eric's boat and Shakespeare's Henry V—is suspenseful and gripping, though perhaps slightly implausible. That three 13 year old boys—only two of whom have sailing experience—and a 20-something teacher are given permission to go out onto Lake Ontario by parents and principal is, to say the least, questionable. The emergency surgery that is later performed by one of the boys is also questionable. It is unlikely that a 13-year-old on a sailboat would be able to perform surgery on a man's head with a screwdriver.
The narrative voice is also awkward at times, going from moments of third-person limited to third-person omniscient. While the book starts out with an emphasis on Anthony, the reader is suddenly given access to the inner thoughts of Mr. B, Eric, and Rob, but only at times of distress or frustration. This technique, while not necessarily improper in any strict sense, is cumbersome at times and can lead to distraction
That being said, Unto the Breach is a quick read, and the story is compelling. Gale works well with suspense, always giving enough information but not too much. The boys' reactions to danger and difficulty elicit an empathetic response. Those with an interest in sailing will enjoy the depth of detail in the text, and those who do not know all the lingo will find the glossary and diagrams helpful.
Gale's novel is reminiscent of many other tales of young men confronting adversity and danger and coming out more mature for it. Eric, Anthony, and Rob, by working together, overcome great difficulty. But the unique aspect of this work is the ending, which is both ambiguous and inspiring. There is no beautiful ending wrapped up in a bow, which makes it all much more impactful, and, therefore, more realistic. Unto the Breach is not without its issues, but overall, Gale has written an engrossing and unique text.
Rob Bittner is a graduate student of Children's and Young Adult Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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