CM . . . .
Volume V Number 7 . . . . November 27, 1998
I wondered how Papa was faring in this weather. He'd be mighty bored, I guess. He doesn't play cards and he thinks puzzles are a waste of time. He might read, unless he's already read the books we have here. Aunt Lizzie keeps us supplied with novels, but I don't think he approves of novels unless they're by Mr. Dickens or Mr. Kipling."Words are the bane of my life," 16-year-old Frederick Dickinson candidly admits; he "never knows whether words will come exploding out like gunshot, or disappear forever." Fred's stuttering "drives Papa to his wit's end" and triggers Papa's decision to initiate measures that will force Fred to "face the world like a man." In the meantime, Fred and his three younger siblings get to spend the summer of 1904 with his maternal relatives at their cottage, Sunnybank, on Rideau Lake.
The death of Fred's mother almost three years before, Papa's unrelenting criticism and sternness, and the stuttering and awkwardness threaten to crush Fred's spirit. However, life at the cottage offers freedom and a time to grow beyond feeling "odd man out." Fred gains confidence as he interacts with his uncritical relatives and affectionate younger siblings and spends his days leisurely fishing, swimming, boating, and socializing. Uncle Will teaches him to drive Bessie, the motor boat, and assigns him the responsibility for transporting the others around. Fred even finds time to fall in (and out) of love and to investigate the legend of the murderous Rideau ferryman, John Oliver. When Papa unexpectedly decides to join them at the lake, Fred fears the worst, but surprises both Papa and himself with his reactions. Finally he sees himself as "related but different," his own man.
Johnston bases this coming of age novel on the actual diary of Fred Dickinson explaining that the excerpts "are partly invention and partly Fred's own words." Fred is an articulate narrator whose observations of people and events are remarkably shrewd, sensitive, and mature. "If you want to know everything that goes on in the life of diary writer," he suggests, "read between the lines." While the diary entries that begin each chapter record events and facts, Fred's expanded prose reflects emotions, insights, nuances, and opinions - the "between the lines" component. Aimed at a young adult audience, The Only Outcast gently and charmingly reminds adult readers of the alternating wonder and torment of adolescence.
The Only Outcast was nominated for a Governor-General's Literary Award in the Children's Literature-Text category.
Darleen Golke is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.