Summary: Planning to use his summer to save up for a trip to Europe, Steve finds the death of his grandfather, David McLean, gets him there a lot quicker when the will leaves him an airplane ticket and a mystery to solve in Spain. Tracking down his grandfather’s lost possessions leads him to Laia, the great-granddaughter of Maria, and an old journal detailing McLean’s twelve weeks as a soldier in the International Brigade struggling to protect Spain from the Fascists. As Steve and Laia make their way through the journal and Spain, Steve connects with his family history by following in his grandfather’s footsteps and the experience leaves him with a completely different perspective of the man he thought he knew.
Number of Pages: 211
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Lost Cause by John Wilson was my last Seven the Series read. I know they are meant to be read in any order, but I particularly liked having Steve’s story as my last book because it was unique. Each grandson is in a different stages of growing up. McLean seems to be aware of this from the grave as he picks out a specific mission for each one, guiding them into adulthood and fostering self confidence and self esteem when necessary.
But Steve is different. He and his grandfather weren’t close, and it wasn’t because they didn’t know each other. The younger twin of DJ, Steve is often overlooked in his own right and DJ has assumed a role of responsibility as surrogate parent after the death of their own father. The ridiculousness of DJ acting more mature than Steve is not lost on him, and as a result their relationship is somewhat strained.
The task Steve receives from his grandfather is to go to Spain and retrieve some items of his that he left behind after serving in the International Brigade. Because it means he gets to go to Europe as he always dreamed of doing, Steve is ecstatic. He isn’t daunted by the fact that his grandfather’s instructions are kind of sketchy and unclear, but jumps into the experience to learn what he can and figure out what his grandfather was doing in Spain in the first place.
What he finds with Laia as his guide is a rich history of McLean’s first experience abroad. Jumping into a war he didn’t really understand, and having to come to terms with the reality of that action. McLean’s journal is powerfully written, detailing the initial arrogance of a young man with strong beliefs and without the experience to back them up to a sorrowful, pensive man tempered by war.
As with all Wilson’s books, I learned a lot. This time I learned about the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Wilson opened my eyes to the folly of other countries in their lack of involvement, although one might argue there was no way of knowing it was a stepping stone to World War II, but he also skillfully showed that as in all wars, it is never a black and white situation.
By the end of the book, I wondered if, of all of the grandsons, Steve is the embodiment of his grandfather. His story is all about retracing his grandfather’s steps, living through his grandfather’s words, and making the choices his grandfather perhaps should have made. If you ignore the fact that McLean’s decisions meant Steve was born, then Steve’s story feels like a righting of wrongs – like the life McLean should have had after the war.
For me, it was an immensely satisfying conclusion to Seven the Series, and I am very happy Seven the Sequels are waiting for me read having been published in 2014.
“I sat back and stared at the ceiling. That was typical of DJ. Assuming I couldn’t manage on my own. Trying to ‘big brother’ me. It got on my nerves. On the other hand, I appreciated that he would do whatever he could to make my dream possible. His superior attitude bugged me like crazy, but we were twins. Deep down, we both knew that if the other got in trouble, we would do whatever it took to help.” – Steve talking about his twin brother DJ from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 9
“Rosa Luxemburg, a heroine of mine when I was your age, once said something to the effect that freedom only meant something if it was freedom for those who think differently. I think something similar applies to friendship. Being friends with those who are the same as you, have the same interests and beliefs, is easy. The problem is that you miss much of the richness that makes us human. Seek out the odd and unusual, the novel ideas of those who think differently from you.” – Advice from David McLean for his grandson, Steve from Lost Cause by John Wilson, pages 24-25
“Typical arrogant DJ, going to climb a mountain like it was the same as going to Safeway. And he’d probably do it too. Easy for him with guides and everything, and here I was alone in a foreign country with only the sketchiest of idea of what I was to do.” – Steve from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 53
“‘Our past anchors us and makes us real. That is why you are here, no? To discover your past.’
‘My grandfather’s past,’ I said.
‘It’s the same,’ Laia said with a shrug. ‘The past does not begin when you are born. It is a line, a thread that winds back through your parents, grandparents and all your ancestors. You live in Canada?’
‘Then at some time an ancestor of your stepped onto a boat in the Old World to seek a better or freer life in the New World. He or she is a part of you, just as the Moors who ruled this country a thousand years ago are a part of me.'” – Conversation between Laia and Steve about the past from Lost Cause by John Wilson, pages 74-75
“I helped save a life yesterday, and today I might have taken one. None of this is what I wanted when I came here. But what did I expect? I was a stupid kid with no idea. What did I think, that wars are fought without blood and death, like a story in the Boy’s Own Annual? Did I really imagine that men don’t cream when a piece of a bomb tears a hole in them? I don’t know if I will be able to force myself to go down into Gandesa tomorrow.” – Except from David McLean’s journal from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 171
“‘It wasn’t simple,’ Laia said as if reading my thoughts. ‘It isn’t simple. Both sides of the war live on in Spain today. Many people miss the stability that Franco’s dictatorship gave them. I told you before: you can’t escape history. And history isn’t good or bad; it simply is. Dreadful things happen in war, on both sides.'” – Laia talking about the nature of war from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 183
Summary: Fourteen years-old and a new mother, Jane is faced with a change in identity as she goes from being the good girl in her family to the girl with a baby. With her Native heritage once people get over the shock of Jane hiding a pregnancy for nine months, most aren’t surprised about it. Raised in a supportive family though even after the death of her mother, Jane shows everyone that being a teen mom isn’t the end of the world. Through determination, perseverance and a couple of mistakes along the way, Jane and her daughter Destiny make their way in the world.
Number of Pages: 203
Age Range: 14-16
Review: Jane’s story begins with the birth of her daughter Destiny. It’s a powerful scene as author Sylvia Olsen depicts a young girl who is understandably frightened by what is happening to her, but is also helped by her family and determined to let her body do what it needs to. Destiny’s birth marks a change in Jane’s life, as she goes from child to mother in an instant, and Destiny’s name is truly prophetic as she is Jane’s destiny.
I love the larger themes of family. If Jane had been on her own or had less involved family members, The Girl with a Baby would be a different story. Instead, Destiny’s birth seems to spur them all on to do better, be better, for Destiny’s sake. Her birth inspires them, and with Native roots Destiny is seen to have great power and will bear the Indian name of her ancestors. No one in her family looks down upon Jane for her circumstances, rather they help support her and care for Destiny. Jane is secure in knowing her family is behind her, as well as generations of ancestors that have come before her.
Against the backdrop of a judgemental society, Jane juggles being a mother and being a teenager trying to get her high school education. She has a great friend and the support of her family which means she is able to pursue her dreams, and works hard to land the lead in the upcoming school play.
What struck me most though was Jane’s friend Dawna. I loved how Olsen gently developed her as the ultimate faithful friend, but also that when she ended up wearing a special suit to go and see Momma Mia with Jane, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Maybe she was gay, maybe she really was transgendered, or maybe she just wasn’t a girl who liked to wear dresses. No matter what the reason, it didn’t matter. Jane didn’t care and neither did her family. And I loved them for their willing acceptance.
I came away from the book feeling like you are who you choose to be. Maybe others will put their own labels on you, but you don’t have to accept them. Although Olsen makes it very clear than not accepting them is much easier with the support and love of friends and family.
“make your own trail
use the stuff you got
the ground under your feet
the air that flies your kite
the people around you
it’s all there
you set your sails, turn your wheel, adjust your rudder, tune your strings
nobody else can do it
wisdom will help you
listen to the wind
slow down at corners
stay awake on long straight stretches
watch out for potholes
step softly like a dancer
with eagle feathers and tine bells and glass beads” – Jane writes a poem using her mother’s words from The Girl with a Baby by Sylvia Olsen, Chapter 5
“Now I finally knew what those words meant. A few of my decisions had set me up for the rest of my life. First, I decided to have sex with Trevor. It didn’t feel like a decision at the time. It felt more like I was on the back of a train and ended up where the front car was headed. It was more that I didn’t make a decision not to have sex with him. And two negatives don’t make a positive. Not when it comes to having sex. So my first non-decision decision forced me to make the next decision, not to have an abortion.” – Jane from The Girl with a Baby by Sylvia Olsen, Chapter 5
“‘Damn them,’ I sighed. ‘Can’t I just be a girl? Bot the girl with a baby? Did they say anything about my audition? Did they like it?’ Why was he surprised? What did I expect? But for a short time during all the excitement around the audition I didn’t feel like just the girl with a baby. I felt normal, almost.” – Jane from The Girl with a Baby by Sylvia Olsen, Chapter 13
Summary: Driven from their home to protect their lives, Cassandra and her family retreat to an island protected by a land treaty for aboriginal people. Going there isn’t their first choice or the easiest because the island is protected by a supernatural barrier, but they come to adjust to their new surroundings. While a haven for the aboriginals who are being hunted, this protection comes at a price for the spirit world and the supernaturals trapped on the island. Though she doesn’t know it yet, Cassandra holds the key to righting the wrongs of the past but doing so will mean putting those she loves most in danger.
Number of Pages: 456
Age Range: 14-16
Review: This is not the post-apocalyptic tale it is presented as. While Cassandra, her brother Paul, and her father live in a world with chips in their arms and an impending plague that threatens the lives of everyone except those with aboriginal blood, the story is really about their move from the Corridor to the island. The only treatment for the plague is aboriginal blood, and obtaining it means draining the ‘donors’ dry, putting all three of them at risk with their aboriginal roots.
The dystopia part plays a very small role in the book, and if you put that expectation aside, it’s quite an enjoyable read. Cassandra is a sixteen year-old girl coming into her own. Both she and her twin brother experience different connections with the spirit world, but Paul is haunted by the darker side of it all, seeing visions of the future he and Cassandra have trouble understanding until they come to pass. Moving to the island with the other aboriginal people in an effort to escape being used for their blood involves giving up their way of life and opportunities to embrace a life their mother was trying to escape, but they have no alternative choices.
Except while the island has its’ challenges, and no one seems willing to accept them at first, the move ends up connecting Cassandra and Paul with their roots, providing some explanations for the powers they have. Cassandra is trained as a healer by Madda, and finds more inner strength in herself than she ever knew she had. The supernatural beings on the island are drawn to her and her power, and ultimately it is only Cassandra who can free them from their prison.
I can’t say that I always understood what was going on – when stories veer into the spirit world and the supernatural sometimes I have trouble keeping track of everything – but Catherine Knutsson’s writing is gorgeous. I happily lost myself in her descriptions of gardens and I felt as if I was right there with Cassandra in the stunning environment she found herself in. Knutsson has a talent for putting life into the simplest of tasks through depicting them as art and also for telling the truths of living.
Cassandra’s story is one that takes time to develop, but it is worth it. Knutsson’s writing is to be savoured as she explores Native mythology while adding a touch of The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and including deep, complex characters. I hope a sequel is in the works, because I would love to lose myself in another Knutsson story.
“We settle under the apple tree, the one where we spread our mother’s ashes, school long forgotten. Paul builds a fire as I take the basket in my hands and ask the itmes inside what they want to be. The keys whisper to me, and so does a length of twine. As I wait for Paul to speak, I begin to twist the twine into knots, stringing the keys between them. I will give it to Paul once I’m finished, and knowing him, he will feed it to the fire. But that’s okay. I know these things I create with my hands aren’t for me to keep. It’s the giving that’s important.” – Cassandra from Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson, page 16
“We pass a garden so beautiful I can’t help but stop and stare. Sunflowers in full bloom reach to the sky. Apples dangle from their trees, green and glossy and waiting to ripen. Cabbage. Tomatoes. Squash. Pole beans dotted with scarlet blossoms, and everywhere, the sound of bees. I haven’t heard a bee sing since I was a little girl. I’ve always had to fertilize our plants by hand, going from flower to flower with a tiny paint brush.” – Cassandra from Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson, page 81
“‘Close your eyes,’ he says. ‘Tell me what you hear.’
I do as he asks. The stiff leaves of a poplar rustle in the wind. A jay cackles in the cottonwoods, and if I concentrate hard enough I can make out a subtle hum just below the level of hearing, as if the earth is singing a song of its own. It’s . . . beautiful. ‘It’s like a hymn,’ I say.” – Conversation between Bran and Cassandra from Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson, page 90
“I don’t know how long I sit there, singing, holding his hand. Long enough for his skin to take on a tinge of yellow. Long enough for his mouth to fall slack. There is no beauty in death. Ben is no longer Ben, but a husk sloughed off by his soul.” – Cassandra from Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson, page 266
“See past yourself to the things that need doing, and do them when no one else will. Don’t choose the easy route. Choose the one that’s true. You’ll know which one that is, because when you close your eyes and feel your choices, the right one always feels open, even though you know it’s going to be hard. And don’t forget – you’re a survivor, Cassandra. Look at what you’ve been through. You keep on going, eep on fighting, even after your mother and your home and your teacher were ripped away from you. And I have a feeling there’s more to come.” – Except from Madda’s letter to Cassandra from Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson, page 357
“So I say: This is the story of the way things once were, and now are, and how they will be, for it there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we are not bound by the myths created for us. It’s time for my own myths, and those myths will take place in the land of ravens, the land left behind by time – the land of the Bix’iula.
These are my truths, my myths, my lies. This is my story.” – Cassandra from Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson, page 456
Summary: Living in a small, sheltered community on Vancouver Island, Maya and her friends have grown up under the shadow of a town built by a medical research company. With just over 200 people living there, everyone knows everyone and it is generally acknowledged that the town’s secrets aren’t secrets at all, but simply things people don’t talk about. Everything changes though when some strangers come to town knowing more about the true purpose of the community than those who live in it. As Maya encounters truths about herself she never imagined, her world is thrown into upheaval as everyone is driven out of town by an intentionally set forest fire. Headed into the sky on a helicopter with her friends, Maya has no idea what is in store for her future.
Number of Pages: 359
Age Range: 14-16
Review: The first book in the Darkness Rising trilogy, The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong sets the stage by letting her reader into Maya’s life. Having been present at the accidental death of her best friend Serena, Maya’s life has not been the same since. She holds herself apart, finding her closest relationship is with Daniel, Serena’s boyfriend as they protect each other in their struggle to move on.
With questions about her own mysterious past, Maya’s love of and connection with animals reveals more than she knows at first, but when a teen named Rafe comes to town he has some unexpected answers for her. Nothing is as it seems in the predictable community Maya believes she has grown up in, and by the time she is forced out of town by a forest fire, she has only a small inkling of what is to come.
Once things get going in Armstrong’s book, it’s a race to the finish as everything just falls apart. The Gathering is more about setting up characters and the plot rather than moving it along, but when things get going it is fortunate that the rest of the series has already been published.
Maya is a spirited character with a developing love triangle on her hands whether she knows it or not, and how she learns to trust the others she has known her whole life will be telling in the coming books.
“We started with the snake, dumping in a couple of live slugs. Serena used to argue that killing one creature to save another made no sense. We’d have long debates about that. Not arguing, just working it through. I agreed she had a point, but the snake was rare and the slugs weren’t so it made sense from a conservation view.
But if you pushed her argument even further, you could say that no predator should be saved, because even if I feed them roadkill and hunter leftovers, they’ll kill other animals when they get out. The there’s the argument for letting nature take its course with every living thing, and so we should leave wounded animals to their fate. I don’t mind it when people say stuff like that. I just don’t happen to agree.” – Maya from The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong, pages 57-58
Summary: Arrested for his graffiti tags and on his third strike, Thom is offered a deal. If he helps the police investigate the mysterious graffiti group known as the G7, his parents won’t be called. Taking the deal is a special kind of hell, because while Thom has free reign at night for his graffiti so he can attract the attention of the G7, during the day he must paint over his and other tags in an effort to clean up the city. Aura is a tagger herself as well as part of the illustrious group of G7, and is attracted to Thom’s tags. Once Thom infiltrates the group, truths are revealed and things start to unravel, but Thom and Aura are able to find some solace in each other.
Number of Pages: 192
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Okay, I admit that even after reading Burning From the Inside I’m still not exactly sure where I stand on the issue of graffiti. Is it art? Vandalism? At times it seems to be both. While I wanted to find enlightenment along the Kalpa Path as Walde intended, what I did pull from Walde’s story instead is the need to control certain aspects of our lives and, above all, to be heard.
It isn’t clear what has happened in Aura’s or Thom’s or even Story’s life to bring them to the place where they are. What is clear is the place they each find themselves in is a place where their graffiti is a comment on society, and also a cry for help. Graffiti is their unique way of screaming into the abyss they can see all around them.
There’s a lot going on in Walde’s book with the undercover work by Thom and the secret society of G7, but while at times I had trouble following what was going on, I loved Walde’s writing. Her skills with artistic description, her ability to tackle philosophical questions about our society and her views on the importance of reading had me pulling several memorable quotes that I have included below. I love when authors give me new ideas to consider, and Walde’s book means I will never look at graffiti in the same way again.
Mostly though, I wished things could have been different for the teens in Walde’s tale. The G7 and the youth detention centre provide friendship and a unique construct of family for Thom and Aura, but there is still the original pain of being neglected by their parents that haunts them. Their tags and nicknames are a way for both of them to claim who they are and announce it to the world, hoping someone is listening. Aura is on a quest to discover fellow tagger Story’s path because while she isn’t physically present, she is a mentor for the kind of graffiti artist Aura wants to be.
Aimed for mid to older teens, there is a lot readers will be able to identify with, as well as a complex plot that will keep the pages turning.
“For a moment he forgets himself, watching them. Under the streetlamps the insects swarm, points of diamond light, buzzing, brilliant white. He watches them, mesmerized, like they’re hundreds of matches flaring into flame, one by one. The train is now gone. Distant in his ear, his mind, his memory. The moon a dirty pearl hanging in the dark green sea of the night.” – Thom from Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde, page 2
“What I want to know is why can’t a girl just dance? That’s what I want. I want someone to just watch me dance and not want me for my body but for what my soul is saying. I want someone to want me in that way: the absolute magic of soul-bending love. The spark of that. Setting me on fire. Pure. True. Love like no other: the either of desire.” – Aura from Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde, page 11
“What O’Brien wanted was facts. Hard evidence. But the G7 was pure fiction. Everything they did existed in an imaginary realm, even thought it was targeted at the mechanisms of the real world. Which made it, interestingly, even more dangerous. The G7 belonged to no one except each other. They operated in their own world, within their own dimension. They did not participate in society in the way that everyone else around them did: they shifted time and space, creating their own story, together.” – Thom from Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde, page 86
“As I climbed the stairs, I remembered the first time I had been brought to the Library at the End of the Universe, shortly after I’d joined the G7. Chef had built the library himself, carefully selecting a collection of books in history, poetry, anthropology, philosophy, and art. He truly believed that one day books as physical objects would become obsolete, and he wanted the G7 to have a place where we could all come and read, without, as he called it, a ‘mediated’ approach. Reading, he believed, should take place in the body, not in the mind. He wanted to create a space without computers, without screens. A restful space for rumination, mediation. For dreams.” – Aura from Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde, page 141
“It wasn’t even the prospect of getting caught that really scared him, he said. Don’t you see? It’s what will happen to everything we’ve created, destroy everything we’ve built. They will erase our resistance. Make us irrelevant. As if we never even happened. They will buff us out of existence. Then they will seize control; dictate the public imagination. And then, he concluded breathlessly, they will win.” Aura listening to Chef BS’s fears from Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde, page 144
“Graffiti doesn’t happen in a void, Thom said. It’s a reaction. Against tyranny, hate, oppression. Yes, poverty. Crime. Why don’t you catch some real criminals instead of worrying whether or not your stupid city looks pretty? The G7 is the least of your worries.” – Thom talking to O’Brien from Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde, page 152
“Thom thought of his father, his mother. How little they knew about who he was, of how they never wanted to know. No one leaves home unless something’s really wrong.” Thom from Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde, page 190
Burning From the Inside by Christine Walde is published by Dancing Cat Books, (2013).
Summary: Trying to getting in contact with her absent father even though her mother refers to him as ‘the sperm donor,’ Dylan is understandably surprised when her father comes into her life out of the blue on his own. But there’s a reason why he has suddenly appeared – his three year-old daughter needs a bone marrow transplant, and there’s a chance that Dylan may be a match. Thrust into an impossible situation, Dylan begins learning secrets about her parents’ past she never knew, all while dealing with the normal challenges of being a teenager.
Number of Pages: 272
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Sixteen year-old Dylan is a complex character. While author Robin Stevenson sets her up as a bit dark and broody, more of a pessimist than a realist or an optimist, Dylan’s first act in the book is one of hope and faith. She makes her family take their yearly photograph so it can be sent to the father who has never contacted her. Ever.
But even after sixteen years of no contact, Dylan keeps sending out her photographs into the void, hoping the void will answer back. This isn’t an act of pessimism, but of clinging to hope and wanting connection.
Of course it turns out to be infinitely more complicated than simply a daughter trying to reach an unresponsive father. Unbeknownst to Dylan, her mother has been working behind the scenes to keep Dylan and her father apart, until she can’t anymore.
It’s messy and complicated and in true Stevenson style, the adults in the story are not fully grown up themselves. Dylan is dealing with a mother whose actions are heavily influenced by personal pain as opposed to what is best for her daughter. Her father seems to be motivated by saving the daughter he has known instead of by wanting to get to know Dylan.
In the midst of Dylan’s drama with her parents and her internal struggle about potentially playing a role in saving her half sister, life goes on. Dylan is in high school going out with her first boyfriend and discovering that perhaps she isn’t as interested in sex as others are. Perhaps it’s because she hasn’t met the right person, or perhaps it is because there is something about her sexuality Dylan isn’t quite ready to face yet. Regardless, Dylan must still deal with the day-to-day stressors of life: school, fighting with her best friend and taking care of her family.
There’s one part of Stevenson’s book that I’m still turning over in my head. I know the hummingbird tattoos are matching between Dylan’s mother and father and they actually came about in a random fashion, but Dylan’s mother tells her the hummingbird is because when she heard Dylan’s heart beating in her womb, and it reminded her of a hummingbird’s heart. Dylan eventually learns her mother’s story is made up, but Stevenson is exploring the theme of the stories we tell ourselves and each other to get by. I was fascinated because for Dylan’s mother, the story becomes true. Sometimes fiction is preferable to fact, and Stevenson’s story makes me wonder if at times, it’s okay to embrace the lie instead of the truth or if truth can be retroactive in nature.
Dylan grapples with many issues in an authentic way, and I truly enjoyed accompanying her on the journey.
“Sometimes I’d be doing this, waiting for time to pass, and I’d get a sudden clutch of anxiety. Every second that passed was gone forever. Every minute, every hour, every day. It was awful, imagining all that time slipping away, all those seconds rushing past in an unstoppable roaring stream. I could almost hear it when I closed my eyes. Racing toward the grave. I mean, of course everyone knew we were all going to die eventually, but no one else ever seemed to think about it.” – Dylan from Hummingbird Heart by Robin Stevenson, page 11
“I felt the ground shift beneath me. A flicker of sympathy – after all, I didn’t know what I wanted either – and then a flood of anger. Why couldn’t she just get it together and be reliable for once? With everything else that was going on, shouldn’t I at least be able to count on my mother to be sane and solid and predictable?” – Dylan from Hummingbird Heart by Robin Stevenson, page 163
“Maybe he really was thinking nothing.
I couldn’t imagine it. ‘How does a person think nothing?’ I wanted to ask him. ‘Can you really do it? Just switch off that stream of images and words and worries?’ It sounded like heaven to me.” – Dylan from Hummingbird Heart by Robin Stevenson, page 197