________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 21 . . . . June 22, 2001

cover The Gramma War.

Kristin Butcher.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2001.
168 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-183-1.

Subject Headings:
Grandmothers-Juvenile fiction.
Genealogy-Juvenile fiction.
Aging-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4 - 6 / Ages 9 - 11.

Review by Val Nielsen.

*** /4

When eleven-year-old Annie's ailing grandmother moves in with the family, Annie has to give up not only her bedroom but also her beloved gerbils. "I guess we'll survive," she tells her pets. "Mom says we're making a noble sacrifice and should be very proud. But I knew better. This was no sacrifice. We'd been evicted. It was as simple as that." Life for Annie seems to have taken a decidedly unfair turn. To begin with, her favourite teacher has been replaced by an unsatisfactory substitute. Then she finds that her "noble sacrifice" has not brought the expected gratitude or approval from Gramma. Far from being sweet and loving, the way grandmothers are supposed to be, Gramma is demanding and grumpy. She is running her mother ragged with her demands, favouring Annie's older sister, Claire, and filling the house with cigarette smoke. The last straw in the disintegration of Annie's world occurs when the History Repeats Itself reenactment group, which she has looked forward to joining on her twelfth birthday, is disbanded. Attempting to help Annie cope with her disappointments, her parents enroll her in a local genealogical society. It is not long before she is embarked on constructing a family tree. Crotchety Gramma has an antique trunk full of heirlooms, and, although her short-term memory is severely impaired, she is full of memories and stories from the past. On the path to learning about her family history, Annie begins to see her grandmother with new eyes.

      At 81 years of age, Gramma more nearly represents the values and lifestyle of a great grand-parent than she does of a grandparent. With only 168 pages to build background and flesh out characters, the reader may have some difficulty believing that this bad-tempered and selfish old woman can evoke as much love and loyalty from the rest of the family (including teenaged Claire) as she does. Butcher's depiction, however, of Annie's mixed emotions toward her grandmother and her relationship with the rest of her family is credibly handled. Writing The Gramma War from Annie's point of view has given the author opportunity for plenty of dialogue and humour, making the book attractive to middle grade readers.

      Kristin Butcher, who has written two other novels for middle readers, The Runaways (1997) and The Tomorrow Tunnel (1999), has a fascination for genealogy and a concern for the fragility of family history. In choosing the generation squeeze (and gap) as her theme, Butcher has undertaken a difficult subject on which only a few children's authors have written powerfully. (Sue Ann Alderson's Chapter One published in 1990 is an example.) She has not romanticized her story, nor given the reader a conventional happy ending. Some young readers may find the conclusion of The Gramma War unsatisfactory, but there is no doubt that the story will evoke much discussion in a class or literature circle.


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

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