CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 19. . . .January 18, 2013
Bev Irwin's In His Father's Footsteps, a boy's wilderness adventure story, is a welcome change from the trendier types of teen fiction. I was predisposed to like this story because I grew up in northeastern Ontario, regularly visit family there, and know of teenagers like Jason who live on remote farms in the bush and bus to town schools. As the story opens, 14-year-old Jason Sharman, is worried about his father who has failed to return from a solitary prospecting expedition. His strong, powerful father is skilled at living off the land and supplements their income from their woodland farm in the "near north" part of Ontario by panning for gold on a claim he shares with his brother, George.
Jason decides that he and his Uncle George must go and find his father. Irwin, the author, gives very specific detail about the equipment Jason packs for camping out in autumn. The inclusion of green garbage bags and antibiotic cream indicate that the story takes place in the recent past. Since Jasonís uncle is injured and cannot come with him, Jason sets off into the bush with only a map. Fatigue, rough terrain, and potentially dangerous animals pose big challenges. A friendly yet wary dog accompanies Jason on his journey.
Throughout the novel, the author achieves a good balance between the lyrical and the practical. Descriptions of terrain and scenery and sightings of animals close up are alternated with productive activities such as fishing to supplement the rations brought from home.
Although Irwin brings "on stage" quite a few animals and hazards in a short period of time, their presence is more convincing than the contrived plot twists I've encountered in reading other contemporary teen novels. Jason's endurance, skill and heroism are a result of his knowing survival skills, skills which young readers can learn if they wish. Youths raised on vampires, wizards and futuristic technology may be surprised to see what Jason can achieve with his "low tech" old-fashioned equipment. These days, with juvenile fiction dominated by speculative fiction, Irwinís novel stands out for its realism.
The novel is presented in the third person from Jason's point of view. Readers learn that recently there has been discord between father and son:
The rift between them intensifies Jason's urge to find his dad. Wisely, at the end, Irwin does not make Jason renounce his contemporary interests and commit forever to a traditional life close to nature "in his father's footsteps." Instead, she shows Jason's sense of achievement from practising the skills his father taught him, and the mutual love and respect between father and son.
A resident of Ottawa, ON, Ruth Latta is revising an historical novel for teenagers, The Songcatcher and Me, to be published in 2013. Her most recent novel, The Old Love and The New Love, is available from email@example.com.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.