CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002
In this cut-to-the-bone portrayal of an 11-year-old boy's grief, James Heneghan raises questions about parenting and weaves through it the amusing and persistent influence of the Irish faeries. Andy loses his mother and stepfather in a cataclysmic flood of Mosquito Creek near Vancouver. His forbidding Aunt Mona brings him to Halifax, but he escapes from her to find his father, a ne'er-do-well gambler and seller of stolen cigarettes. Initially ecstatic to be reunited with his father, Andy comes to realize that Vinny can barely look after himself, let alone a son. Aunt Mona takes him in again, and Andy learns over a period of many weeks how much she and her husband, Hugh, love him: enough to allow him to keep in touch with his father. Unseen, hovering over Andy, are the Sheehogue, the Irish faeries, who protect him until they are sure that he will be welcomed and loved. The crisp, realistic dialogue moves this story along and reflects the Nova Scotia setting. The constant rain and chill of a Halifax winter permeates Flood and provides the perfect background to this story about grief and family love. The lilting quality of Vinny's honeyed words charms the reader as well as Andy. Andy's stream of anxious thoughts perfectly portrays a child's anger and fear. His worst fears are repeated: "What if your dad doesn't...What if your dad doesn't..." But by far the most interesting approach in Flood is the insertion of the faeries' amusing conversations as they watch over and protect Andy until he is settled. Conjured up in Vinny's wonderful storytelling and superstitions, the fairies wrap this story in comfort and warmth even as Andy's circumstances deteriorate.
Characterization is compelling and believable. Before the flood Andy is a typical 11-year-old, concerned with friends, soccer, TV and video games and indulged by a loving mother and absent stepfather. Heneghan cleverly develops Andy's character from the stunned overwhelming disbelief of a suddenly orphaned boy to a boy whose anger and desperation push him to find his father and to coax him into a new life as a parent. Although Andy does begin to see how Vinny can't be counted on to come through on any of his silken promises, Andy is still a child, and he can't quite grasp how unhealthy Vinny's life is. Uneasy with the cockroaches and longing for friends, Andy still rejects his aunt's second offer of help until Vinny forces him to go. Slowly Aunt Mona and Uncle Hugh's generosity and ordered, loving family life win Andy's acceptance. Aunt Mona's own grief over her sister's loss and her own childlessness shows clearly in her stiff, no-nonsense behaviour and her first bitter criticism of Vinny. The warm, loving acceptance of Mona's husband, Hugh, and his sister and her family, especially their daughter, Una, remind us that extended families can help us to get beyond grief. Mona's and Hugh's gift of a much desired puppy shows how they understand a boy's needs. It is the picture of Vinny, though, that dominates this novel - the talented, beloved man who cannot cope with his brother's accidental death and who lets his life fall apart. Vinny, the con artist with the golden tongue, can charm anyone but remains totally unreliable. It's good for children to see that all adults aren't perfect and some cannot change. Heneghan's humanity glows here as Andy, Mona and Hugh determine that they will keep in touch with Vinny and make sure that he is OK. This is an excellent novel. Since the drab, dreary cover will not likely attract children, the book will require some selling, but this is such a compelling story that any middle school student will be truly touched by it.
Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.