Summer of Madness.
Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 1995. 188pp, paper, $7.95.
Grades 6 - 10 / Ages 11 - 15.
Review by Jennifer Johnson.
It seems that everyone but me knows how to talk and flirt and
exchange feelings. I'm competent at some things: math, science, even
organic chemistry. I can look after the house, my sister, and my animals,
but if they gave grades for understanding emotions, I'd get an "F." I
can't figure out the simplest relationship. My friend Paula says there is
nothing simple about relationships, but she seems to understand
Sixteen-year-old Karen fits into her world with ease. She is confident
and able, except about relationships. Her home is on a cattle ranch in
the Cariboo region of British Columbia and she manages a full roster of
duties and activities. She juggles 4-H projects, friendships, ranch
chores, and family duties. At the end of August, Karen's mom flies to
Edmonton to help her own mother, and Karen faces a whole new set of
To her own schedule she adds her mother's rural postal route,
cooking for a hungry haying crew, and managing her younger sister. When
she discovers that someone is poisoning calves, she becomes aware of an
ugly scheme to force the ranchers to sell out to a local developer. Karen
is drawn into a "summer of madness" as her careful balance of interests
is suddenly overloaded and an unexpected menace intrudes on her familiar
As Marion Crook has proven in her previous novels, she is a skilful
interpreter of young adult concerns and emotions. In Karen, she has
created an able young woman who is equal to the demands of a busy life.
Crook establishes a rural ranching setting and sets Karen very comfortably
in that world. For urban readers, the wealth of detail about daily life
in ranching country is exotic, but the messages about community and
capability are positive and have broader application.
Crook has experience plotting and pacing mysteries from her
"Susan George" series. In Summer of Madness, the escalating harassment
suffered by the ranch families and Karen's quick thinking in the face of
fear and real physical danger are well set-out and delivered. The
emotional support Karen gets in light of her retaliation is effective as
In a book that explores emerging sexual attraction and emotional
sharing so effectively, it is unfortunate that Crook also introduces a
psychic element. The "mind-to-mind connection" which Karen and Kevin
share is a distraction from their real need to articulate their feelings
to one another. For young readers who experience the same insecurities
that Karen does about self-image, appearance, and relationships, this
extra-sensory intimacy may prove a distraction. The psychic element could
be a good primary focus for another novel, but it is not a successful
addition to a book already abundantly supplied with character and
The cover of the paperback is a definite asset. The photographic
composite of a young woman in repose over a foothills meadow is
attractive and should move the book off the paperback racks and into the
hands of readers.
Jennifer Johnson works in Ottawa as a children's librarian.
Summer of Madness was reviewed by classes across Canada as part of the Collaborative Book Review Project. You can read the students' reviews at the Collaborative Book Review Project site.
To comment on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association.
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