CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Janice Cowan

Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1990. 101pp, paper, ISBN 0-88887-104-4 (cloth) $29.95, ISBN 0-88887-106-6 (paper) $14.95. CIP

Grades 5 to 8/Ages 10 to 13
Reviewed by Anne Louise Mahoney.

Volume 19 Number 5
1991 October

Black Forest Secret, Ottawa author Janice Cowan's Fifth novel for young readers, is set in an interesting place at an exciting time. The place is Germany; the time is just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Paul Dunnaway, a Canadian teen­ager whose father works in intelligence at an air force base in West Germany, and his German friend, Markus Diehl, stumble onto a message from a spy at Markus' house and are caught in the act by another spy. Because they now know too much, they are whisked out of town and taken to Berlin. Meanwhile, Paul's father has put two and two together and is soon in hot pursuit of his son and his captor. The cross-country chase puts both Paul and his father in some difficult situations, but the story ends happily.

While the subject matter of this book has great potential, it never really gets off the page. Paul and Markus don't find the spy's message until nearly halfway through the book. What comes before that is mainly descriptions of everyday life and a number of not-so-subtle clues. Apart from the two boys who, despite being a little boring, are believable characters, most of the other characters (all adults) are one-dimen­sional. Markus' father is the only one who has both a good side and a bad side. Paul's father is a little baffling — for someone who works in intelligence, he is pretty slow at figuring out what's going on. Readers aged ten to thirteen may still enjoy this story of espionage and adventure, but it is not a solid representative of the genre.

Kyra Cowan's black-and-white illustrations add very little to the text; many of them are so small (less than a quarter of a page) that they are com­pletely ineffective. A note on the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall would have helped readers put the novel in a historical context. The novel itself provides no dates and no back­ground to the action. Finally, Black Forest Secret would have benefited from a thorough copy-edit. There is an incredible lack of commas, especially in the quotations.

Anne Louise Mahoney, Ottawa, Ont.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are 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 Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works