________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002

cover My Brother's Keeper.

Marion Woodson.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2001.
148 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55192-488-9.

Subject Heading:
Brother XII, 1878-1934?-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Cora Lee.

** /4


Snap out of it, she said aloud and pinched her arm. She closed her shutters, turned on the overhead light and flipped through the book for photos. There he was. This confirmed it: Brother Twelve's everyday attire was a grey suit, a fedora, a white shirt and tie, and a carnation in his buttonhole. When he went into the House of Mystery, though, he often wore a brown monk's robe. He had visited her in both guises. She was sure she had not known this before her nighttime encounters. Or had she?

What was it about infamous cult leader Brother Twelve that could compel hundreds of seemingly sensible people to abandon family, friends, and their senses to live, work and die for the man? Whatever it was, 14-year-old Sarah Prentiss gets a taste of it when she arrives at Cedar-by-the-Sea to spend two weeks on the site of his former lodge, now the home of her cousin James. Her search to explain the mystery surrounding Brother Twelve is prompted initially by a mild curiosity, but it soon becomes more intense, then urgent, as she starts seeing ghosts that put her safety into jeopardy. Thus, the plot of My Brother's Keeper, written by Marion Woodson of Nanaimo, BC, is full of promise. The tension in this story, however, never really reaches its potential. Despite a near drowning, Sarah's ghostly encounters are somewhat tame, and are further attenuated between episodes by long passages of exposition and descriptions of unrelated, albeit interesting, events such as the neighbour's cabane sucre.

     The book is billed as a mystery and poses two main questions: who is Brother Twelve, and did Sarah really see ghosts? While the existence of ghosts isn't confirmed, the question of Brother Twelve's identity is solved easily by a combination of books, conversations with island residents, and Giselle's old school report on the subject. These devices do a thorough job of both delivering information and warning of the dangers of cults, but Sarah seems to come by her information rather too conveniently, and the girls' conversations tend to be either too factual or too earnest to be believable.

     Readers are left with other, unintentional questions, as well: why was Sarah "chosen" to see the ghosts? What sets her apart from her cousin James or her friend Giselle? The profile of a typical cult victim offers a tempting opportunity for character development. But if Sarah has some vulnerability that makes her susceptible to the cult allure -- a parallel that would reinforce the warning nicely -- it's not obvious. Sarah comes across as a very ordinary, happy girl, with a hint, perhaps, of insecurity over her looks. She suffers no major family problems or emotional difficulties and, at the end of the novel, she returns home neither the better nor the worse for her experience. She's learned some history, made some friends, and deconstructed most of the mystery. She's still not sure whether she actually did see the ghosts, but that seems fitting, given the baffling nature of the cult culture.

Recommended with reservations.

Cora Lee is a Vancouver, BC, writer and editor.

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