CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 6 . . . . October 12, 2012
A huge shock greets 14-year-old Kathryn Tourond as she waits somewhat impatiently on the train platform to meet her Aunt Belle with whom she will be staying after the untimely passing of her father. Kathryn, not Kate or Katydid, moves all the way from her posh life in Toronto, ON, to a small encampment in River Falls, AB, only to learn that she is of Métis heritage and that her life is about to change drastically. The year is 1901, and while she and her father passed as white in metropolitan Toronto, here in River Falls you can't escape your culture.
While Kathryn has no intention of staying in her aunt's run-down shack amongst the other Road Allowance People, she must co-exist with her new community while she hatches a plan to raise the funds to return to her old life and grand ambitions back East. Her new life is not an easy one as she learns firsthand how the Métis are treated as second class citizens. Preferring to lose herself in the adventures of books rather than the hard labour and strange customs of the Métis people, Kathryn finds herself drawn out of her cocoon by the stories of a mysterious Highwayman who helps the outcasts by night fall. Determined to discover the identity of the Robin Hood of River Falls, and later to protect him from a false accusation that could lead to his hanging, Kathryn learns important lessons about herself and the people she has come to know better through trial and triumph.
Outcasts of River Falls is actually a sequel to Jacqueline Guest's Belle of Batoche which follows Aunt Belle as a young girl at a critical point in Métis history. However, enjoyment of the more recent book is not dependent on having read the first. Outcasts of River Falls stands alone as a hearty mystery with interesting historical insights. Readers are immediately introduced to strong-willed, mutlti-dimensional characters in both Kathryn and Aunt Belle, and the tone complements the intrigue of the plot. Outcasts of River Falls is a fast paced book, matching the short time frame in which the story takes place. While Kathryn's eventual change of heart towards her newfound community seems a little bit rushed, the overall pacing of the story is satisfying. The language is historically lilted and appropriate both for audience and accuracy.
Outcasts of River Falls packs an interesting punch, but it has a depth of content that will open up a discussion about equality and acceptance. It does double duty in shining a light on a little known historical Canadian fact while entertaining with a gutsy, outspoken protagonist who impresses and inspires.
Amber Allen is a librarian in Toronto, ON, who fills every crack of her spare time with children's literature.
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