________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 9. . . .November 1, 2013



Paul Blackwell.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2013.
320 pp., trade pbk. & Ebook, $14.95 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-0-38567-698-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-38567-699-1 (Ebook).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Andrew Laudicina.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“Ha-ha-ha,” a kid cackles quietly to his friends as I pass on the way to my locker. They all turn, their eyes lighting up at the sight of my soaked clothes. “Did Harris go over the falls again?” the first kid says. “Or just piss himself?”

This is not the first time I’ve heard crap like this. Usually it’s to my face. And each time I just ignore it or maybe say something back if I can think of anything smart, which I usually can’t until five minutes later when it’s too late.

But this time something snaps in me. I can almost hear it, my patience, breaking like a dried, old twig. And the next thing I know I’ve got a hold of the kid by his greasy brown hair and am slamming his head as hard as I can, not once, not twice, but three times into a nearby locker.

…His friends step away, terrified, leaving the boy lying helpless at my feet. I’m free to abuse him as I please.

But he’s not getting up. So I’m done here. I pick up my gym bag and continue down the hallway, kids pressing themselves against the lockers to get out of my way.

That’s right: Move. Amped up on adrenaline, I feel ferocious—like a wild animal making little creatures scurry away. It’s a strange feeling, both sickening and unsettling, yet somehow pleasurable at the same time.


Having just survived the impossible—falling into the treacherous waters of Crystal Falls—16-year-old Callum Harris desires nothing more than to leave the confines of his hospital bed and return home to his ordinary, yet otherwise happy life. There is only one problem; Callum cannot decide if his memories of his life before the accident (despite their vividness) are, in fact, true, or if they are the product of brain trauma sustained from the fall. Whatever the case, Callum is not sharing his concerns with anyone out of fear that he will be sent back to the hospital, or worse, shipped to an asylum. And besides who can he trust now that everyone he knows and loves, including his older brother Cole—no longer a star athlete, but instead paralyzed and bedridden—is a ghost of their former selves?

     Callum bemusedly navigates the above mentioned scenario for nearly the first third of the book’s three hundred pages. While some readers may grow impatient with this slow start, it works well to establish Callum’s character both as he was before the accident—a mild mannered teenager with only a few select friends—and who he is and what he becomes in its aftermath. The former depiction is revealed in large part through a series of flashbacks centred around Callum’s not too distant adolescent past. Growing in frequency and intensity as the story progresses, these sequences serve to add an important layer of depth and come to play a pivotal role in the book’s thrilling reveal. As satisfying as the ending is, however, the plot suffers slightly from being a bit too predictable. The identity of the hooded figure, for example, and for that matter the source of Callum’s troubles and the circumstances which have placed him in this strange new reality, are likely to be guessed correctly by readers long before the Callum ever does. In most novels, this would spell disaster, but here, with Blackwell’s strong writing controlling the pace and injecting just the right amount of action and suspense, most readers will not mind.

     Those familiar with Blackwell’s earlier works, specifically, “Joy of Spooking” series (see Fiendish Deeds; Sinister Scenes; and Unearthly Asylum) for middle-grade audiences (penned under the name Bracegirdle), will know that he possesses a particular penchant for the macabre. While there are no ghouls or ghosts of any kind to speak of here, Blackwell manages to incorporate many dark, if not altogether disturbing, elements throughout. Death especially, or the simple threat of violence, whether it be by accident or intent, follows Callum at seemingly every turn. Amidst all this danger and disorder, Callum begins to change in ways that are all too unexpected and terrifying. As Callum tries to discover who he is, readers will surely be asking that very same question about themselves as well.

     While much is borrowed from a variety of genres—science-fiction, horror, and mystery mostly –Undercurrent reads most closely like a psychological-thriller. As such, the book should have broad appeal; although, since the plot is narrowly focused on Callum, with few female leads, the book will perhaps be more closely aligned with mature male readers. Nevertheless, all in all, an entertaining fast-paced read which quietly carries a powerful message about identity and the sometimes hidden pressures of being a teenager.


Andrew Laudicina, an MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, ON, currently resides in Windsor, ON.

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

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