CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002
If Bell's Death Wind and Goobie's Sticks and Stones seem familiar, it is because both were originally published by Collier Macmillan/Maxwell Macmillan Canada, in 1989 and 1994 respectively, as part of the hi-lo "Series 2000." unfortunately, when Maxwell Macmillan was acquired by another company, this well received series was discontinued. Bravo, therefore, to Orca for having revived the series. However, have they? A note at the conclusion of Sticks and Stones says:
Orca Soundings is a new teen fiction series that features realistic teenage characters in stories that focus on contemporary situations and problems.
Soundings are short, thematic novels ideal for class or independent reading. Written by such stalwart teen authors as William Bell and Beth Goobie, there will be between eight and ten new titles a year.
Understandably, this internal promotional material does not include words like "high interest-low vocabulary" as such language might be off-putting to some of the books' intended readers. Taking advantage of a 1-800 number which invited readers to call for further information, I was able to confirm that, yes, the Orca Soundings books are meant for a hi-lo audience.
Maintaining the same mass market size with the type of enticing cover art that was utilized by "Series 2000," the Orca Sounding versions have deleted the full page illustrations that appeared every eight to nine pages in the "Series 2000" originals. As well, and perhaps as a way of offsetting the lost illustration pages, the font size of the Orca Sounding titles has been appreciably increased.
A textual comparison of the "Series 2000" originals with their 2002 Orca counterparts did reveal very modest changes to the texts of both books. In all cases, these changes could be described simply as "tweakings." For example, outdated slang, like "a real niner," has been dropped while an occasional word or sentence has been deleted or added. As well, some paragraph breaks have been modified.
The action of Bell's Death Wind culminates in the aftermath of the destruction wrought by the series of tornados which struck Barrie, ON, on May 31, 1985. Although the date is not used within the novel, Bell has added an "Author note" to the Orca version which explains his personal involvement in that event. The story's central character is Allie who appears to be in grade eight. Believing that she is already the cause of her parents' quarrelling, Allie does not want to share with them the fact that she has failed three of her four courses and may be pregnant. Electing to run away, Allie joins her longtime friend, Razz, who is17 and last year's national skateboard champion, as he sets out on this year's tour. A victory in the first competition of the year, however, brings Razz back to Barrie for a television appearance, and the pair arrive just as the tornado hits. Allie's concern is for her parents as the tornado's path appears to lead directly to the family home. When they arrive at the house, the pair find only destruction. On their way to an emergency centre located in a local school, Allie rescues an infant trapped in a basement. She then assists at the centre while awaiting word of her parents' fate. Not surprisingly, all ends well for everyone.
Goobie's Sticks and Stones deals with a reality found in virtually all secondary schools in North America - name calling. In this case, the name is "slut," and it's being applied to Trudy, aka Jujube, who made the mistake of spending a few minutes necking in the back seat of a car with Brent, aka Mr. Warp Speed, his nickname coming from his reputation for quickly sexually "advancing" his relationships with girls. Though nothing sexual happened between Trudy and Brent, the latter, in order to maintain his own reputation, allows his buddies to believe that Trudy was "easy" and "fast" and that she would "go all the way on the first date." Consequently, Trudy finds herself on the receiving end of snide remarks, "knowing" looks and crude comments. Even worse, she discovers that her name and new "reputation" are plastered over the walls of the school's washrooms, both male and female. Despite the expression's claim that "names will never hurt me," the term, "slut," does wound Trudy deeply; however, Goobie believably allows Trudy to find a satisfactory conclusion, one which involves her creating the Slut Club whose membership is comprised of other girls whose names were included in the washroom graffiti.
Given that reluctant readers are more frequently male than female, it is odd that Orca would begin the series with two books featuring female central characters. Both, however, have a strong secondary male character, and each features subject matter that should be of interest to both genders.
Goobie's Sticks and Stones, in particular, demonstrates that hi-lo books do not automatically have to be of lesser literary quality. By launching the new hi-lo series with titles of already proven quality and interest from well established YA authors, Orca Soundings are off to a fine start.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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