________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 5. . . .October 4, 2013


Totally Unrelated. (Orca Limelights).

Tom Ryan.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2013.
120 pp., pbk., pdf & epub., $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0458-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0459-3 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0460-9 (epub).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Jonine Bergen.

***1/2 /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I'm sure at this point you're asking what exactly it is that I do. Well, for one thing, I don't dance, that's for sure. Believe me, I've tried. I can't play the fiddle or a piano to save my life, trying to keep time on a drum confuses my brain, and as for singing...well, let's just say I'm happy letting the rest of them handle the vocals. The boring truth is that I play the guitar. My parents shoved it at me because they needed me to do something, and for years I've stood behind them all onstage, strumming away like some kind of idiot.


Fifteen-year-old Neil does not enjoy playing in his family's Celtic band, but he does not hate it either. After all, there are perks to belonging to the well-known Family McClintock. It's just that he does not think his background strumming is adding anything to their performances. As he says, he's "the runty, pudgy, black-haired black sheep of the family, with a distinct lack of moves." All the rest of his five siblings are tall, fair skinned redheads with a natural affinity to music. It's no wonder he feels like he doesn't really belong. So, when his best friend, Bert, suggests that they create a rock band to enter into the local talent contest, Neil is intrigued. It would be a chance to play the kind of music he actually likes and take centre stage for a change.

      With Bert on the drums and Neil on the guitar, the only thing their rock band is missing is a singer. Fortunately, Neil meets Sandy at one of the Family McClintock shows. Sandy is staying with her grandmother for the summer, plays a little guitar, and is willing to be convinced to sing at the talent show. So, with the pieces in place, the group settles down to prepare.

     The plot focuses on the work involved in preparing for the talent show. As Neil begins to practice more, he realizes his playing for his family's shows is improving - and he starts to feel that he is actually making a contribution to their sound. As importantly, his father notices and starts to give him more opportunities. This new improved relationship is put to the test, however, when Neil realizes that the talent show conflicts with a very special show. The Family McClintock has been asked to open for a popular country band. This could be his family's chance to move to the big leagues. All Neil has to do is give up his dream of playing his music his way and crush the dreams of his best friend and the girl he has a crush on. No matter what Neil chooses, someone is going to be disappointed - and he is pretty sure it is going to be him.

     Totally Unrelated is a simple character-driven story. Neil is a likeable guy who is trying to figure out how to come out from under the shadow of his talented, larger than life family. Using first person point of view, author Tom Ryan allows Neil to tell his story and lightly explore his relationship with his family members and his perception of himself as an outsider. Neil’s voice is honest, with a touch of sarcasm and lack of self-perception that is appropriate for this age. Ryan wisely uses his other characters to flesh out Neil’s blind spots for the reader.

      Further, the plot moves quickly as the reader follows Neil’s rising excitement about shows – until he realizes they are both scheduled for the same day. The author has developed a credible dilemma for Neil, but, in the end, the narrative arc is somewhat flat.

     Totally Unrelated is part of Orca's new “Orca Limelights” series, a high interest series focusing on the performing arts. The “Limelight” series will be a great addition to Orca’s already strong list of high interest books. The focus on the performing arts will definitely appeal to many teens. I am looking forward to reading the other novels in the series.

Highly Recommended.

Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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