________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 3 . . . . October 2, 1998

cover Stephen Fair.

Tim Wynne-Jones.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/Douglas & McIntyre, 1998.
218 pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-88899-295-5.

Subject Headings:
Dreams-Juvenile fiction.
Family-Juvenile fiction.
Secrecy-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6 - 9 / Ages 11 - 14.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.

**** /4

It has been a long wait for adolescent fans of Tim Wynne-Jones since the publication of his remarkable young adult novel, The Maestro, winner of the 1995 Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature. In Stephen Fair, the author has created another memorable 15-year-old male protagonist. Stephen Fair has nightmares. Over and over again, he dreams of climbing a ladder to a treehouse, a fire, and a crying baby. He can't tell his mother about his dreams because he fears that she will discover that he has inherited his brother Marcus' nightmare. Four years before, tortured by the same nightmare that is now waking Stephen up every night, his brother ran away from home. Before that, the family had gone through a crisis precipitated by the flight of Stephen's father. Stephen's mother's concern for her son seems almost too intense. Brenda calls in Hesketh Martin, who practises applied kinesiology and prescribes flower remedies to cure Stephen's sleep disorder, but the "witch lady," as Stephen calls her, thinks the source of the problem may lie with Brenda rather than her son. Stephen agonizes over his suspicion that Brenda is hiding something from him.

      Fortunately for Stephen, however, he has his loyal, if somewhat outlandish friend, Dom, and a new classmate, Virginia Elizabeth Dulcima Skye, a wannabe movie-maker who is gifted with warmth, intelligence and a wicked sense of humour. Missing his own father, Stephen is drawn to Virginia's eccentric, charming father. A brilliant manoeuvre on Stephen's part to mend a rupture in Virginia's family and a visit to his grandmother lead Stephen to the realization that he must uncover the secret that has been poisoning his life.

      There are some wonderful scenes as the pieces of this complex novel come together in the last few chapters of the book, all of them carefully and subtly foreshadowed in the preceding chapters. Tim Wynne-Jones has a sharp ear for dialogue and an uncanny ability to delineate character with a minimum amount of speech. Even less important characters, such as Stephen's five-year old sister, Toni, and his run-away father, Doug, are vividly drawn and entirely believable. As in The Maestro, the novel demands a good deal of the reader. There is much to ferret out between the lines, and much satisfaction in going back and re-reading the text to test predictions and hunches the reader is certain to have. The ending, tidy enough to satisfy adolescent readers, will likely still leave a question or two in their minds. Stephen Fair is a perfect pick for a literature circle with readers from 12 to 15 years of age. Discussion should certainly be lively and, in some cases, heated as young readers wrangle over the characters, plot and issues in this moving novel.

Highly recommended.

Valerie Nielsen is a recently retired teacher-librarian who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364