________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 3 . . . . October 5, 2001

cover Last Summer in Agatha.

Katherine Holubitsky.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2001.
185 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55143-190-4 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55143-188-2 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Teenagers and death-Juvenile fiction.
First loves-Juvenile fiction.
Teenagers-Suicidal behaviour-Juvenile fiction.
Friendships-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9-11 / Ages 14-16.

Review by Joanne Peters.

***1/2 /4


We reached the end of O'Conner's land where we left the track, hopped the fallen fenceposts and followed the trampled path as it curved down a slope and around the side of a hill. I stood next to Anna, peering into the mouth of the cave. It was dim at first after the white light we'd been walking in, and musty smelling. I blinked several times before the shapes inside began to make any sense. There were two people in the cave.

Swinging a bucket of red paint from one hand, Cory Sparks had blond spiky hair and he stood with his back to us. With his free hand, he was painting graffiti all over the wall. He turned when he heard us. After looking briefly at Anna and Scott and Michael, his eyes stalled on me. It got a little uncomfortable, so I was thankful when Michael moved to my side. Cory turned his back to us again. The words next to whatever warped message he was working on read, "Eat dirt, Cardinal."

image It's a hot summer afternoon in Agatha, a small Alberta town which can be toured in exactly thirty minutes. Sixteen year-old Rachel Bennett is spending her vacation there, staying with her aunt and uncle, veterinarians for the local area. The prospect of two months of paralyzing boredom turns around when she meets Michael Bell, tall, dark-haired, a year older, a collector of horror movies. Within five minutes, Rachel is smitten. Their attraction to each other is strong and powerful - something about Michael is undeniably charismatic - but even from the start, Rachel senses something disturbing in him. Michael's favourite retreat is a cave outside of town, but, even there, he can't escape the pain and loss of his brother's death, two years earlier. Throughout Rachel's summer in Agatha, Michael's anguish escalates and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, dangerous, and hurtful, even to those who care for him. The pranks that Cory and his friend, Taylor, play on Michael and his friend, Scott, become increasingly malevolent and violent; insults become genuine injuries, and, like a stone thrown into a pond, their acts of retaliation affect others in this small community. For Rachel, loving Michael is confusing: he is vulnerable and hurt, but his emotional needs are greater than her experience and well-intentioned attempts to help. Even at the end of the story, she wonders "how we had all missed the signs." The summer, and their relationship, ends after a truly terrifying incident at the cave to which Michael so often fled.

     Last Summer in Agatha is strong and powerful-written. Holubitsky makes you taste the dust of southern Alberta, feel the heat of prairie sun, and live the lazy rhythm of small-town life. Within two chapters, the sixteen and seventeen year-olds of this novel are all sharply drawn characters, unique and yet like teens anywhere. Although the book is supposed to be for an intended audience of age 12 and up, I really think that it's a book for older adolescents: there's a bit of profanity and some exploratory sexual activity, although certainly less than you'd see on prime time television aimed at teen audiences. Unfortunately, the cover art for the novel depicts two couples who look as if they are age 12, and this is off-putting to older readers who would enjoy this book. Cover art aside, it's definitely worth adding to your high school library fiction collection.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School 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