CM . . . .
Volume V Number 5 . . . . October 30, 1998
Madison took out her flute and sat on the front step of the cabin. No one would hear her over the noise of the campfire so she was free to pour her heart out in her music - a slow, melodic tune that matched her feelings. She began to play. Sad, aching music floated across the camp, music that she had reached down and pulled from her very soul. The sky was still streaked pink from the now-set sun and the night creatures were just beginning to rustle and creak in the forest behind her. Madison felt at peace. Just her and her music, the forest and the sunset. No one to notice she was alone.It's been almost a year since 13-year-old Madison Turner and her mother moved from Calgary to the west coast, the relocation the result of divorce, and Madison still hasn't made any friends. When her mother insists on sending her to Band Camp for two weeks during the summer to meet people and to polish her flute playing, Madison protests. She's certain no one in band likes her, and she'd much rather visit her father. But Madison's mother urges her to quit sulking and to get on with her life.
Initially Madison spends most of her free time at camp alone, but this changes when Ashley, a cabinmate, befriends her. Then there's Luke, the gorgeous blue-eyed First Trumpet player, who notices her and comments on how she can "make that tin pipe sing." And finally, Ricky, a nice guy who plays the bassoon, starts paying attention to her. Suddenly camp doesn't seem so bad, but then Madison is offered First Chair position, an honourary band position presently held by a popular girl in her cabin. Madison believes that her accepting First Chair will jeopardize her new friendships. Madison must now face her fear of failure and rejection while staying true to herself and trying to fit into the group. An encounter with a cougar finally presents Madison with an opportunity to show her courage and personal strength.
This first novel from Hrdlitschka offers a plot that will appeal to young people, especially adolescent girls. Making friends, heart-stopping crushes, finding romance, being away from home and growing up - it's all there. The cover painting and interior black-and-white illustrations do a fine job at conveying Madison's angst as she deals with her problems, problems with which many teenagers will identify. However, Beans on Toast disappoints in its delivery. Dialogue is often unnatural and forced, and many scenes, such as the initial meeting with the one-year-old cougar kittens, are just not believable. It's inconceivable that a responsible camp director would ever lead a group of young hikers toward a "blood-curdling scream" and a "cat-like growl" in the woods. At this point, the reader becomes as sceptical as the hikers. Also, the reader is often told what is happening rather than being shown - and it's all those interesting details in the showing that make a story shine and that make it possible for readers to get inside the heads and hearts of the characters.
Nevertheless, there's plenty of drama and tension throughout the novel to carry young readers along, and the story provides an optimistic, satisfying ending. Anyone who has ever moved, changed schools or been in need of a friend will cheer along with Madison's new friends and fellow band members when Madison is awarded the honour of being "The Keeper of the Bean on Toast Award plaque" at the final campfire of Band Camp.
Recommended with reservations.
Cheryl Archer is the Manitoba Officer for the Canadian Children's Book Centre and a former park naturalist.
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