________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 6 . . . . November 13, 1998

cover Brad's Universe.

Mary Woodbury.
Victoria, B.C: Orca Book Publishers, 1998.
191 pp., pbk, $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-120-3.

Subject Headings:
Fathers and sons-Juvenile fiction.
Mentally ill fathers-Juvenile fiction.
Teenage boys-Family relationships-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7 - 10 / Ages 12 - 15.
Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


He could still hear his mother's sharp tones.

I don't want you asking your father a lot of questions when he gets home. Kids ask too many questions...sometimes it's better not to know...better to keep quiet. Then she had gone....

Brad forced his mind to think about something solid, something dependable, secure. He had been reading about the nervous system as he tried to get to sleep last night....

He took a deep breath and stared down at his hands. Amazing things, hands. Over twenty bones in the wrist, hand and fingers - eight carpals, six metacarpals, fourteen phalanges in the fingers, two in the thumbs and three in each of the fingers.

Brad has always taken refuge in nice definite facts about dinosaurs, anatomy, or, most recently, the stars, planets and solar system as a way of avoiding thinking about himself and his past. His father's return from "The Place" - a mental hospital? prison? - and a school assignment requiring that he construct a family tree combine to put enormous pressure on this intelligent 14-year-old, pressure that freqently erupts in anger and violence or sullen withdrawal. Because his own family finds showing affection so difficult, Brad is both drawn to, and repelled by, the exuberant, loving and disorganized family that includes his scout master and twins of Brad's own age.

      Then, on the eve of the Science Fair, for which Brad has spent months preparing several projects, one of his school mates says something which reveals that he knows Brad's father was, in fact, in jail, and he is going to "tell" everyone. Brad's violent reaction frightens even himself, so much so that he takes off in order to confront his demons in solitude. As he forces himself to recall and analyse a half-forgotten incident from when he was five or six, Brad comes to realize just what his father had done (abused some of his young piano students), and that this, while reprehensible, does not need to ruin his own life. When the twins come searching for him, Brad has already concluded that running away is not an option, and he goes home first to confrontation with his father and then reconciliation, both tied into his success at the Science Fair.

      Brad's parents - the one self-centred, egotistical and domineering and the other self-effacing and apologetic as she attempts ineffectually to be a buffer between her two men - make a family so disfunctional that it is actally more surprising that Brad manages to cope at all than that he does so badly. His troubles seem to be more a result of this background than in his buried memories of the occasion when he interrupted his father and the students "fooling around" in the hot tub. I suppose it is possible that the unlocking of this memory could trigger a resolution of his inner conflicts and so bring him peace of mind and a deeper understanding of his parents and his friends, though it seems a bit of a stretch. This, and the fact that Brad continued to have any friends at all, given his generally antisocial behaviour, make the story somewhat implausible, but it deals with a difficult topic, and Brad emerges as a strong and likeable character whom we are glad to see triumph over adversity with his thought that: "This is as good as it gets, then. You win the prize but the photographer doesn't show up. You build a telescope and spend months at it, and your computer game wins the judge's special notice. You find out just enough about your past to know it's not great, and then you have to live with it." A little philosophical musing does no harm.


Mary Thomas has worked for nine years in libraries in the Winnipeg School Division No. 1, and is now on leave in Oxford with her husband for a year.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364