My Blue Country.
Grades 10 - 12 / Ages 15 - 17.
January 15, 1973
Some of the kids have been smoking dope. This could jeopardize the whole programme. The Malaysian government is totally against drugs, we are talking the death penalty. We could all be sent home in disgrace and the project ended before it even get going. I could kill those selfish bastards myself. Everyone knows who did it but the question is -- do we tell Val? It's all so depressing and confusing. I mean, Katie, Jean-Francois, Ray and a few others drank a bottle of Scotch in our room tonight. Cyn and Louise were very upset, especially since the guys shouldn't have been in our room in the first place. And isn't that as bad as drugs since it's against the rules too, and Muslims are anti-alcohol as well as anti-drugs?
O.R. MELLING'S EARLIER BOOK, The Hunter's Moon, was an award winner. The present book, My Blue Country, is based on the author's experience in the first Canada World Youth Exchange to Malaysia. It is presented as the journal of seventeen-year-old Jesse McKinnock of Calabogie, Ontario, and declared "a work of fiction."
There is much worthwhile in the story, with strong characterization, an excellent presentation of the variety of outlooks of students representing different regions, races, religions, and languages of Canada, descriptions of their experiences in Malaysia, and their individual reactions to the Canada World Youth exchange program. No doubt it will have appeal to some of today's readers, but I reacted badly to it and was not able to quell my feeling that although I was reading fiction, it reflected all too clearly unsavory aspects of real life today.
The program itself seems to have been typical of government schemes that are poorly organized and wildly extravagant. The students who made up the group with which the story is chiefly concerned are so poorly mixed as a team -- and even unwholesome -- that it appears no screening of their aptitudes or attitudes took place. The leaders are wishy-washy and do not provide enough guidance or supervision. Although Jesse McKinnock herself is a fairly tame character, the escapades of the other members of her group would certainly not be guaranteed to give Canadian youth a good name.
One of the reasons this disturbed me was because of an experience I had in England in 1985. In conversation with an English friend, he asked, "What has happened to Canadian Scouts? Some years ago at the Jamborees they were at the top of the heap, but their behaviour at the recent ones has been simply terrible."
I was at a loss for an explanation, but mumbled vaguely about television, drugs, and alcohol. This book makes it all too clear.
Joan Payzant is a retired teacher/librarian in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
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