CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 10. . . .November 8, 2013
The best thing about this book is the title, Smokescreen. This is exactly what the author is trying to accomplish with her mystery-adventure story about forest fires and poaching in Northwestern Ontario. Kerry is a 17-year-old young woman placed in a scary situation and totally out of her depth. She lives in Toronto and has been a dancer all of her life. Because of an injury, she cannot dance for a while, and her mother finds her a summer job working in Northwestern Ontario at a firefighting camp. Her mother mistakenly thinks Kerry will be doing office work and filling in endless reports. However, on the very first day, Kerry meets her verbally abusive boss and finds out that her jobs will be more exciting but more dangerous as well. They are jobs with which she has no experience nor any qualifications.
One would think that Occupational Health and Safety and labour laws might have something to say about placing a young girl in this terrible environment. Written in the third person, the story is a mix of mystery and adventure. Along with a worldly 19-year-old Yvette, Kerry is assigned to be kitchen help to prepare meals for the men. It is a rough place where danger is everywhere. Bears roam close to the camp, there is talk that Kerry is in some danger of possibly being sexually abused by the men who are fighting the fires near the base camp, and there is the constant threat of forest fires. The camp is hurriedly evacuated and re-situated as the fire encroaches on the campsite, and the new campsite is even more remote and dangerous than the first. As well, it becomes obvious that the fires are being set deliberately, and there is evidence that someone is poaching and shooting the bears for their fur and meat.
The reader is given a hard look at what a northwestern Ontario firefighting camp might be like. Kerry experiences stereotypical, crude-talking men, being inebriated, possible unwanted sexual advances and is privy to racial slurs and innuendo between the men. The only other female in the camp is Yvette who acts years beyond her age. Even though she has spent some time at these kinds of camps, she seems supremely capable and over-the-top-knowledgeable about men, the running of the fire-fighting camps, and life in general. The plot circles around the fires and questions about who is setting them as well as bear poaching.
This reader had a hard time suspending belief in order to get into this book. Two young girls in a rough camp, with some of the men depicted in such chauvinistic ways, seemed unrealistic. The reader discovers near the end of the story that some of the men turn out to be undercover RCMP and Ontario police officers. However, in the middle of the story, they try to ply the girls with alcohol in order to get them to talk about what they know about the fires and poaching. I have a hard time believing that officers of the law would offer minors alcohol for any reason, even to get information. Also, I did not feel that the racial slurs were ever addressed in a way which would promote a peaceful community. The characters did not appear to grow in any way. So, although the premise of the story is a good one and the title is great, I cannot recommend this book.
Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of the best-selling “Tunnels of Moose Jaw” series, as well as the biography of Paralympic Champion Colette Bourgonje. Currently she is a Literacy Teacher/Consultant with Saskatoon Public Schools in Saskatoon, SK.
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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.