CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 1. . . .September 7, 2012
Between Two Ends.
New York, NY: Abrams, 2011.
288 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Books and reading-Fiction.
Characters in literature-Fiction.
Adventure and adventurers-Fiction.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Meredith Snyder.
"So much has happened. Mr Sutcliff! Mom needs to see this. Everything Dad said was true. He's not crazy."
The old man grunted. "No, indeed. You are the key, my boy. If ever your family is to be whole again, we need you to do the greatest part."
Can you die in a book? To 12-year-old Yeats, the hero of David Ward's latest novel, the answer to this question is a matter of life and death. Trapped in an unexpurgated translation of The Arabian Nights, he alone can rescue Shari, his father William's childhood best friend. Convinced that she is Shaharazad, she has been lost in the book for decades and hasn't aged a day. William has always held himself responsible for her loss, and his guilt and grief are tearing his family apart. For this reason, much rests upon Yeats' success. Should he bring Shari home, he will save his family, but should he fail, it is unlikely that he will see any of his loved ones again. Ill-equipped and out of his depth, Yeats finds his heroism and ingenuity are to be tested as they never have been before.
In Between Two Ends, Ward weaves a compelling literary adventure packed with fast-paced action sequences and snappy dialogue. The fantasy world, which flows seamlessly from Yeats' everyday reality across the sea of words, will feel familiar to avid readers who have found themselves so wrapped up in their reading that they've lost track of life around them. Ward's rich literary allusions, both overt and subtle, steer children toward intriguing classic stories and poems without being overwhelming or intimidating. Yeats is a likeable character who faces grown-up challenges head on, with passion and fortitude. His fierce loyalty to his family and friends and his strong sense of purpose help him maintain the focus he needs to break the spell and bring Shari home. As Yeats retraces his father's footsteps, he develops a deeper understanding of his father and of the ways in which William's past shape his family's present. As books help people to understand their lives, Yeats' adventure in a book helps him grow.
One significant weakness mars what is otherwise a top-notch read. While his love for his family and determination to keep them together is a powerful motivator for Yeats, this creates the unrealistic impression that children can solve their parents' marital troubles and mental illnesses if they try hard enough. Although it is refreshing to see the way in which a parent's depression affects a child's life so honestly and realistically portrayed, to use this as a plot device risks trivializing serious issues that weigh upon many children's lives. Ward has promised a sequel to the novel; it will be interesting to see how William will continue to develop as a character.
Still, Between Two Ends is a compelling novel that sits in the tension between fantasy and reality, childhood and adulthood, story and life. It is about the magic of stories, the way we look to them to find ourselves, and the way stories help us to empathize with others. Yeats, who rallies ordinary strengths to outwit extraordinary foes, makes an excellent role model. Though the story is slow to start, it will capture the attention of avid readers and fantasy fans, and Between Two Ends would be a worthwhile addition to any classroom library.
Meredith Snyder is a recent graduate of the Master of Teaching program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
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