________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 6. . . . November 15, 2002

cover A Foreign Field.

Gillian Chan.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2002.
184 pp., pbk. & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55337-350-2 (pbk), ISBN 1-55337-349-9 (cl).

Subject Heading:
World War, 1939-1945-Juvenile literature.

Grades 8-12 /Ages 13-17.

Review by Tom Knutson.

*** /4


While Stephen busied himself getting tea and cakes, Deanna leaned over to Ellen. "He's quite dreamy, Ellen." She grinned. "Well, except for the pimples. Nowhere near as bad as you made out."

Ellen sniffed. "Deanna Reilly! You were flirting like crazy with him. I'm being mean about him, I know. It's just that he's always here, and Stewart isn't." Ellen felt a sob rising in her throat, and fought it down.

"That sounds really pathetic, but I can't help it. I keep wondering where Stewart is — in a prisoner-of-war camp, or..." Ellen couldn't say any more, trapped with the awful feeling that if she put her thought into words, it might become reality.

Deanna hugged her. "You'll get news sometime soon. You have to. It's been nearly three months now — he'll turn up." She exchanged a look with Barb over Ellen's bowed head. "It's not really fair to take it out on this guy. He's obviously just lonely and homesick. And you can't blame him for being here." Deanna shuddered. "And it's not like it's forever. He'll have worse to face soon enough."

Ellen knew that Deanna was right. She would try to be nicer to Stephen. He wasn't that bad, really, just a bit annoying, like a puppy that kept begging for attention.

It's 1942, and Stephen Dearborn, a young man from the outskirts of London, England, has gone against his father's wishes and enlisted as an RAF trainee. Posted to Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Stephen is aware of the secret that separates him from his fellow pilots: only 17 years old, Stephen has lied about his age in order to be accepted into the program. The other men on the base don't know his exact age, but they accept him as an equal, nicknaming him "Swee' Pea" (a reference to Popeye's baby) because of his youthfulness. Stephen is able to contain his fears and vulnerabilities until he meets Ellen Logan, a 14-year-old whose family lives near the base. Because of her friends' teasing, Ellen is initially reluctant to admit that she likes Stephen. However, she comes to rely increasingly on his presence as she shares her frustrations about her controlling father and her fear that her brother Stewart has been killed in Europe. For Stephen, relentless nightmares and the tragic deaths of fellow pilots in a training mission cause him to question his reasons for ever wanting to join the air force, and he begins to embrace the support and caring that Ellen can provide in the absence of his own immediate family. Gradually, the two move beyond a friendship just as Stephen must return to England to begin active service.

     Based on well-researched historical fact, A Foreign Field weaves together a typical boy-meets-girl plot that explores both male and female coming-of-age experiences, but in a unique time period and situation. The voices of both Ellen and Stephen, revealed through personal letters and dialogue, authentically illustrate their inner conflicts, as innocence is reluctantly and unwittingly lost to wartime reality; tragedy helps these characters define their deeply held hopes and values. Thus, the story is driven less by physical action than by the emotional movement of each character towards romance and, ultimately, adulthood. While the plot is solid on its own, it could have been enhanced by the use of additional literary crafting, particularly metaphor, in order to explore secondary relationships with family members.

     Although the cover is well-designed, A Foreign Field may have limited appeal for those teens browsing the shelf unless they have a particular interest in historical fiction. However, it is still worthy of addition to most collections because of its ability to reflect typical adolescent traits but in a uniquely Canadian setting.


Tom Knutson is a librarian at Saskatoon Public Library.


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