________________ CM . . . . Volume IV Number 21 . . . . June 19, 1998

cover My Blue Country.

O.R. Melling.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Books, 1997.
196 pp, paper, $7.99.
ISBN 0-14-37944-4.

Subject Headings:
Malaysia-Social life and customs-Juvenile fiction.
Cultural relations-Juvenile fiction.
Religions-Juvenile fiction.
Nationalism-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Darleen Golke.

**** /4


With the music and the hot sun and everyone dressed in clothes that sparkled, it was like a sacred Mardi Gras. It was definitely a celebration, all smiles and laughter, even though Mrs. Vasu explained that those who had pierced themselves did so to atone for their sins or the sins of their family. They danced around for ages, then stood on the temple steps where the priests pulled out the skewers and pins and hooks and needles. No blood!!! Some people fainted, however, and were laid out on blankets and fanned back to consciousness.

I've never seen anything like it in my life. I tried to imagine Reverend Merry witnessing this and couldn't. When I think of our form of worship, everyone in dark colours in a plain setting, singing hymns in a quiet and orderly manner, it blows my mind how human beings can be so different.

And yet, though I felt in some ways like a visitor to another planet, somehow, somewhere inside me, I was connected to it. I wore flowers too. I swayed in time with the music. And the Indian onlookers themselves seemed as awed as I was. We were all human beings together amazed by the mystery, the power of unseen forces, belief over pain, mind over matter.

More than mere miles separate Malaysia from Calabogie, Ontario, 17-year-old Jessica McKinnock's home. Chosen as a participant in CUSO's first Canada World Youth Exchange with Malaysia, Jesse embarks upon a remarkable journey of cultural exploration. In Canada, Jesse and 68 other young people undergo a three-month preparatory session learning about the language and culture of Southeast Asia before heading to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 1973, to work and live for three months. Jesse quickly discovers that Canadians from different cultural backgrounds need to develop strategies of understanding each other if they are to work successfully with Malaysians.

      Jesse chronicles her activities in diary format, reacting both to people and events. Her voice is strongest, however, when she records observations of and responses to the people she meets both in Canada and in Malaysia. When some members of Jesse's group appear to have particular problems adapting and adjusting to their differences, she functions as a mediator in helping to diffuse potentially explosive situations. Featured in the story are Jesse's friendships, her emerging confidence, and even a romantic interlude with a Muslim youth. Although the setting is 1972-73, the young people speak in today's idiom, drink, do drugs, and have sexual encounters.

      Melling, herself, participated in the first Canada World Youth exchange program and draws upon her experience in creating Jesse's story. Accorded honour book status for the 1997 C.L.A. Young Adult Book Award, My Blue Country represents a change in genre for Melling who has award-winning fantasy novels to her credit.

      The novel is structured in two sections: Canada and Malaysia. Basic maps of the regions highlighting place names, a graphic of the original advertisement for the program, and a glossary are added to provide additional information for the reader.

Highly recommended.

Darleen Golke is a teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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

Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364