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Barbara Greenwood.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 1990.
216pp., paper, $4.95.
ISBN 1-55074-018-0. CIP.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13

Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson.

Volume 18 Number 6
1990 November

In Spy in the Shadows, Barbara Greenwood introduces Liam O'Brien, a fourteen-year-old orphan living in the United Province of Canada in 1866. This is a time when discussions regarding Confederation are going on and when the threat of Fenian invaders from the United States adds an edge of fear to daily life in the Niagara area.

Liam's own divided loyalties are played out against this historical background. He is apprenticed to a quick-tempered master bell founder, who contrasts unfavourably with Liam's memories of his gentle, educated father. Raised on tales of English injustice to the Irish and angry to the point of flight, Liam is a ripe candidate for the lures of his Fenian cousin, Patrick Danaghy.

Liam agrees to act as a spy and courier for the brotherhood. He then begins to question his own decision when the Fenian plans include the theft of several kegs of gunpowder and plans for a bombing. Liam confronts his obligations and personal commitments and with the help of his friend Isaac turns against the prospective invaders and his blood ties in favour of his Canadian family.

Barbara Greenwood is an experienced writer of historical fiction (A Question of Loyalty¹). In Spy in the Shadows, she again creates believable characters in a carefully articulated setting. The descriptions of bell casting are particularly interesting as these skills are likely to be unfamiliar to today's readers. She answers questions about how the bells are made and incorporates this detail into her development of Liam's character. His initial failed efforts reveal his frustrations and raw emotional nature while his work eighteen months later, resulting in six small but flawless bells, reflects his maturity and judgement.

Greenwood has incorporated a number of issues, both personal and political, into Spy in the Shadows. Her plotting is sometimes awkward as information about the Gottlieb family is introduced unevenly and the new warmth between Liam and Elizabeth is developed very suddenly at the conclusion. The book does, however, provide an exciting study of divided loyalties and personal growth and will be a strong addition to historical fiction collections.

Jennifer Johnson, Ottawa, ON.

¹Reviewed vol. Xlll/3 May 1985, p. 113.

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