________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 20 . . . . June 10, 2005


The Adventures of Caraway Kim...Southpaw.

Don Truckey.
Saskatoon, ON: Thistledown Press, 2005.
311 pp., pbk. $10.95.
ISBN 1-894345-90-8.

Subject Headings:
Maturation (Psychology)-Juvenile fiction.
Farm life-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Karen Rankin.

*** /4


Alan was a little small for his age, though a scrappy and tenacious player. Next to the Giant, the size difference was even more pronounced. Alan fell face-first into the boards. Crack! In a flash, he lost a tooth. One of his big front teeth was broken off, halfway down. Kim came to a stop beside them just as the whistle blew and Alan fell to the ice. Blood poured from his mouth. Thinking quickly, Kim scraped up a pile of snow with his skate and offered it to Alan, who jammed it in his mouth to try to stop the bleeding and quell the pain. The snow quickly stained bright red.

The Giant stood there and looked upset. It was not his fault, that much was plain, and Kim realized instantly that this sort of thing happened to the Giant, and his opposition, quite often.

This was before now, and some things were different. Kids did not wear masks over their faces. They wore mouthguards, but they were on the outside, held onto the helmet by a strap. Alan's strap had slipped and that's why his tooth was broken off. The coach and the referee helped him off and he gave in to the pain and was crying.

Kim turned circles on the ice and seethed with anger, but he felt helpless and afraid too. What could he do? What could anyone do against a Giant?

Eleven-year-old Kim has a problem: his 13-year-old brother, Matt, has declared Kim the instigator of major vandalism done to a neighbour's farm. As do many other kids in the neighbourhood, Kim loves playing on the farm grounds and helping Mr. White, the farmer, with his chores. But Matt says that, despite poor visibility, he is certain that the left-handed boy he saw throw the first rock through a window of Mr. White's log house was Kim. Now Kim has been labelled, "The Kid Who Threw the Rock." His reputation has been tarnished throughout his home town.

     The story starts with Kim flat on his stomach in a pig yard. He has to get past Barefoot McGranger, the strange and possibly murderous keeper of the pigs, to grab the rope and pulley system off Barefoot's well. As Kim lies baking under the summer sun, he reflects on how he got himself into his current "mess." It turns out that Kim, his older brother and some of their friends are spending a week out in the bush at Cub camp shortly after the damage has been done to Mr. White's farm. During a game of 'capture the flag,' in which Matt and Kim are on opposing teams, Matt has a bad fall over a cliff. It's up to Kim and his buddy, Dennis, to get an unconscious Matt out of a dangerous situation and back to camp. After Kim manages to sneak the rope and pulley away from Barefoot McGranger's, he and Dennis are able to lift Matt back up the cliff. Then, they have to haul him through the forest before they can get any help. As all of this transpires, Kim ponders (amongst other things) his brother's refusal to believe his claim that he did NOT throw the first (or any) rock at their neighbour's old farm house. After a gruelling hike, Kim and Dennis are almost back at camp when Matt regains consciousness and again refuses to believe his little brother's account of what they've all just been through. Cub camp ends in two days, and the boys head back to town where they find not surprisingly that they are no longer wanted on the vandalized farm. Near the end of the summer, a girl in Kim's class tells him that she believes he is innocent and that she has an idea who might really be responsible for the damage done to Mr. White's farm. Kim follows up on her suggestion and eventually finds the real culprit. With the help of Matt, Kim's name is finally cleared.

     As per the book's title, author Don Truckey has written about a number of incidents that take place in the life of 11-year-old, left-handed Kim of Caraway, Alberta. Many of these incidents make up large chunks of the first half of the novel and are presented as Kim's reminiscences while he and Dennis struggle to get the unconscious Matt out of trouble and back to camp. Kim's memories include the fun he has had at Mr. White's farm, the day it was vandalized, his past week at Cub camp, the reasons Caraway is "pretty well the best place in the whole wide world," skating with Dennis on a frozen pond, a memorable hockey game, the coldest day of the past winter, and the time he and Dennis watched a 'professional' wrestling match in the town arena. Once Matt regains consciousness (around page 150), the book which is written in the past tense with a third person narrative primarily from the perspective of Kim continues in chronological order and includes descriptions of a Cubs' campfire, the town fair, bee catching, and excursions to a ranch, a livestock auction, and the town's movie theatre. The book ends with a 'nail-biter' of a baseball game in which 'southpaw' Kim is pitted against another 'leftie,' the boy who actually did throw the first rock.

     While young (eight to ten year-old) readers will be entertained, they will be confused by the story structure of Truckey's novel. This is the type of book best read to (or with) children by an adult. Eleven and twelve year-olds who read the book on their own will also probably find themselves puzzled during the first half of the book but will still enjoy Kim's experiences.

     Kim is a likeable, well-rounded protagonist. He's a good and thoughtful kid, but his friends know he has a 'tricky' way of thinking that helps him accomplish difficult or unusual tasks. While Kim's intentions are usually noble, he's not beyond (for instance) sneaking past barriers to get a better view of a fireworks show, or doing a little illegal betting on the Crown and Anchor game when the opportunity presents itself. Over the space of Kim's year, he learns a number of lessons, some more subtle than others. For instance, after watching a wrestling match, he learns that things are not always as they appear, and when he finds further signs of vandalism at Mr. White's farm, it is clear that he has learned that some things in life just aren't fair. Truckey also paints vivid, if not completely 'full,' pictures of Matt and Kim's buddies, Dennis and Tom. In his friendly, conversational tone, the narrator often reminds readers that Kim's adventures take place in the past (the 1960s). A couple of the stories, such as the wrestling match, are not as appealing as others because they do not revolve around Kim and the reader does not have much of an emotional investment; however, most of Kim's adventures are fun, fresh, and engaging. Amongst many other things, Truckey includes great descriptions of feeding pigs, evading turkeys, trains flying through town, and Kim's acquaintances, including Bobby, who "didn't have a serious bone in his body," Rodney, the self-appointed, skinny little messenger kid, and Lips Lloyd, who's got an angle on everything from sneaking into the cinema to playing the (forbidden) gambling game, Crown and Anchor. The differences between "townies" and farm kids are briefly examined, as are the overall dynamics of packs of boys aged nine to thirteen. Truckey paints a realistic and enticing picture of boys on the verge of adolescence back in the '60s. The Adventures of Caraway Kim...Southpaw is fun both for kids and parents, who will, no doubt, do their own reminiscing as they read.


Karen Rankin is a Toronto writer and editor of children's stories.

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

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