Summary: With an inoperable brain tumour in his head, Jake and his family are headed up to their cabin to try and make the most of their last summer together. But when he gets there, a trapper who lives nearby tells Jake his grandfather did not die of cancer years ago like he thought. Instead, he gives Jake a map to the Gem Lakes so he can track his grandfather down and learn the secrets of the land. Accompanied by his sister Claire, they face the many dangers of their quest together, but when they get there Jake has a decision to make that will determine the future course of his life and death.
Number of Pages: 143
Age Range: 13-15
Review: In an action-packed adventure, Jake makes a last-ditch effort to save his own life by finding his elusive grandfather who has been rumoured to have survived a fatal cancer diagnosis.
The Gem Lakes by Rob Keough is a brief, fast-paced read, but along the way Keough manages some startling insights about illness and survival. I loved the family aspect of the story, especially since when Jake and his sister disappear, it is ultimately unclear whether their father actually hoped this would happen. Plenty of secrets lie just below the surface, and not everyone’s motivations are clear, except they seem to be well-meaning.
There was one point of confusion for me during Jake’s story though. The copy on the back cover says Jake is fourteen, but in the book one part says he just finished grade seven, and another part says he is fifteen. All of these cannot be true. The Gem Lakes reads like Jake is fourteen or fifteen, so I was happy to go with that. With a possible age range of 12 to 15 though, I was mindful that Jake’s decision was an entirely different from the one his grandfather and the trapper before him made. Both of them were older and had already had the chance to be in a romantic relationship and have kids, whereas no matter what decision Jake made, there was a good chance he would still have to go without either.
I enjoyed the read, because while the action kept me turning pages, Keough also gave me something substantial to think about.
“Susan felt like crying all the time. Every minute she was awake, every second of her dreams. It was the hardest not to cry in front of Jake… not to grab him in a bear hug in the hope that she might protect him from anything that came to take him away. She felt so helpless and frustrated that the threat came from the inside, that it wasn’t something she could throw herself in front of.” – Susan, Jake’s mom from The Gem Lakes by Rob Keough, page 56
“Jake was a little bit frightened, as people usually are with things they haven’t seen before, but the beauty of the birds also mesmerized him. He had never seen this many males in one group. He did not see one female, whose plain-Jane-brown-and-white plumage would have stuck out like a sore thumb against the colours of the males. Their green heads and orange beaks were vibrant, like they had been freshly painted on. Their wings were a splash of cobalt blue against a canvas of snow white feathers. He wished he had taken a camera but he was not here to sightsee.” – Jake from The Gem Lakes by Rob Keough, page 59
“The only question now was that if he wanted to live, it would be under a much different setting than he would have planned. Still, considering the alternative, it didn’t seem like much of a question at all.” – Jake from The Gem Lakes by Rob Keough, page 131
The Gem Lakes by Rob Keough is published by Great Plains Publications, (2005).