________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 15 . . . . March 28, 2003


No Small Thing

Natale Ghent.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2002/03.
169 pp., pbk., $15.99.
ISBN 0-00639277-6.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Meredith MacKeen.

*** /4

Reviewed from advance reading copy.


When Ma's finished explaining things, I go into the bathroom and close the door. I strip off my dirty clothes and lower myself by inches into the steaming bath. The hot water soothes my tired bones and despite how hungry I am. I drift off, my mug of tea growing cold on the edge of the tub. The sound of Queen and Cid fussing around in the backyard filters through the steam. I can hear Ma, too, the faint clatter of pots being washed in the kitchen. I let myself drift off like this and my mind starts to wander.

I think about the future and what life holds for us. I think about selling the house and where that'll take us. I think about Ma and Queenie and Cid and all the things we've been through together and how I never could have survived any of it alone. I think about Dad and how he's a part of me, whether I like it or not and Cheryl and Tyler and how I'll never be like either of them...

In 1977, Nathaniel, aged 12, his two sisters, Cid in high school and Queenie a little girl, read an ad for a pony to be given away to a good home. Under Nat's leadership, the three children obtain the pony and find a stable for him, all without their mother's knowledge. Nat proves to be a clever boy who always says the right thing to obtain his goal. He organizes his sisters and finances the cost of the pony through his paper route. While he and Cid get into vicious arguments about most things, they do cooperate in the care of the pony. He is very protective of his little sister who repeatedly performs a strange little dance. Nat has a mixture of emotions: anger toward his dad who left the family; contempt and guilt for his mother who is not coping well; and a flush of romance with a pretty girl.

     The pony, Smokey, is the central healing theme in this story. Everything seems more magical with the pony including transporting the Christmas tree home and one last ride before he is about to be sold. Children who love horses respond well to this story as caring for Smokey is a central activity. Also students looking to complex individuals trying to find their way in a harsh world will find Nat to be a very believable character. While he is a talented student, he feels that teachers pick on him and that Cheryl, his first love, drops him because he is poor. Although he is manipulative in dealing with his newspaper customers, he is candid with family members, and eventually he can understand his mother's perspective.

     This is a realistic novel of a boy struggling in a family situation without a father. The pony is one of the "no small things" that give his life a sense of purpose and a challenge that brings out the best in him. Another "big" thing in his life is his ability to look realistically at his situation and to make the best of difficult times. Ghent writes totally from Nat's perspective, and students will empathize with him and understand his emotions. The other characters in the novel are very much in the background.

     An appealing read, especially for boys.

Recommended .

Meredith MacKeen is a teacher-librarian at Glen Stewart School in Stratford, P.E.I.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.