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

cover The Secret Life of Owen Skye.

Alan Cumyn.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2002.
175 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88899-517-2 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-506-7 (cl.).

Grades 4-7 /Ages 9-12.

Review by Liz Greenaway.

**** /4


No one knew when Doom Monkey the Unpredictable was going to appear. Right in the middle of almost anything there might be a sudden cry: "This is a job for Doom Monkey!" Then there would be a race into the bedroom to get Doom Monkey's Atrocious Hat. It was made of brown velvet with lots of stuffing. Whoever put it on became Doom Monkey the Unpredictable, the trickiest fighter in the Western Hemisphere.

One time Doom Monkey was desperately needed to stop an invasion of space lizards. Andy grabbed the Atrocious Hat first, so Owen and Leonard were lizards. They screamed at the top of their lungs and scampered around the house. Just as Andy was corralling them, he lost the Atrocious Hat and Owen became Doom Monkey.

At this point the lizards took over and Doom Monkey's mission was to somehow survive. He raced into the closet in the attic bedroom and brought down an avalanche of clothes on top of the pursuing lizards.

Everything in life is an adventure for Owen Skye. Life with his two brothers, older brother Andy and younger brother Leonard, is never boring. Whether they are playing Doom Monkey, seeking the Bog Man who lurks in the countryside around them or out in the middle of the night responding to alien messages, life is full of danger and mystery. Life gets even more interesting when Uncle Lorne marries Mrs. Foster and her daughters become a part of the brothers' lives. Through it all, Owen keeps his terrible secret to himself. He is in love, with "a girl of all things," Sylvia, the girl he hopes to marry.

     The novel tells the story in third person and follows a few months from Owen's point of view. Owen's age is never given, though he seems to be nine or ten years old. The setting is also left to the reader's imagination. The adventures of the boys, as well as their passion for comic books, not video games, suggest a time in the more innocent past, perhaps a few decades back.

     The best novels for young adults are those in which the voice of the adult never comes through, so true is the dialogue and thoughts of the young protagonist. This is the case with The Secret Life of Owen Skye whose pitch is perfect throughout. The characters are well drawn and developed, and the feelings between the brothers expertly portrayed. Cumyn has a knack for language that perfectly captures a poignant moment. In one scene, Leonard accuses Andy of being in love with Mrs. Foster's daughter, Eleanor.

"Eleanor says that God is a girl," Leonard said then. "A big girl scientist spirit who made the universe work like a clock."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life!" Andy said.

"Yeah, well, she's older than you and a whole lot smarter," Leonard said. "And you're in love with her!"

Sometimes brothers know exactly what to say to make the ground unsteady. Andy pushed Leonard so hard he went tumbling down the bank and fell into the river in a reedy section where the mud was black and a hundred frogs jumped for cover all at once.

     The family is very real, with all their foibles and humour coming through.

     This is a wonderful novel, one that makes you hope that award-winning author Alan Cumyn continues to write for young adults. With his adult novels drawing critical acclaim, it is clear that Alastair Macleod was not alone in believing that "Alan Cumyn is one of the best young writers in the country."

     The Secret Life of Owen Skye was a finalist for the 2002 Governor-General's Literary Award in the category of Children's Literature - Text.

Highly Recommended.

Liz Greenaway, who lives in Edmonton, AB, has worked in bookselling and for a children's publishing company.


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