________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 40. . . .June 17, 2011.


Wild Dog Summer.

Jean Mills.
Guelph, ON: Pugwash, 2008.
146 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-0-9732853-1-4.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Kay Weisman.



The Toy Makerís Son.

Jean Mills.
Guelph, ON: Pugwash, 2009.
129 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-0-9732853-3-8.

Subject Headings:
Bereavement-Juvenile ficiton.
Friendship-Juvenile fiction.
Drunk driving-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Kay Weisman.





She sighed loudly and turned back to the sink.

Oh, please change the subject, Mom, I thought. Please donít get going on it again. Please, please, please . . .

Itís just that I canít stand to . . .Ē she started, and gulped loudly.

She always does this when anything about Joe or the accident comes up. (From
Wild Dog Summer.)

So when I heard the crack, it took me a second to realize what it was. The second crack was louder, and the ice under me suddenly moved.

And then I was in the water, up over my head. Freezing water, with my skates, my wonderful skates that had always lifted me above the world trying to drag me down. (From
The Toy Makerís Son.)

Millsí two novels, set in the same small town locale of Rosehill, ON, feature one overlapping character, but otherwise stand on their own.

     In Wild Dog Summer, 13-year-old Betty Jane Kelsey (BJ) is graduating from grade eight and looking forward to working on her tan and writing articles for the local newspaper. She avoids spending time at home, for her mother is still grieving the death of BJís older brother, Joe, one year earlier. BJ feels the brunt of Momís grief óin her silences and in the demands for perfection in her only daughter. Also still grieving is Joeís best friend Craig, the driver of the car that crashed, killing Joe. In an effort to come to terms with her own grief, BJ opens herself up to listening to Craigís side of the story and discovers that her brother Joe was very much responsible for his own accidental death. A side plot involving some wild dogs that den in an old barn where BJ and Craig sometimes meet leads to the storyís climax in which the barn is struck by lightening and BJ is badly hurt while trying to help the dog and her pups to escape.

     The Toy Makerís Son takes place the following winter and features Linden Flanders, a grade nine hockey player, whose father carves wooden toys and does not understand or appreciate his sonís interest in sports. Linden has a crush on wealthy classmate and newcomer, Cassie McKay, who takes an interest in Linden mostly because sheís angry with her father and because Lindenís older sister has organized some protests hoping to prevent Mr. McKay from cutting down the townís four-hundred-year-old sugar maple so he can build a new subdivision. On the weekend of the big sit-in and Lindenís Toronto hockey game, tragedy strikes when a major ice storm hits the area cancelling both events and trapping Mr. Flanders in his car on the way to a craft show. Finally, Linden is forced to admit that he has misplaced his affections in Cassie and that BJ has been interested in him all along.

     Both novels offer a look at young teens and their parents dealing with grief (in addition to the death of BJís brother in Wild Dog Summer, Lindenís familyóespecially Dadóis grieving the death of Lindenís mother in The Toy Makerís Son). Personal development issues are explored, although less successfully. In Wild Dog Summer, BJ works hard to learn how to be honest about her feelings, yet in the sequel, she hardly speaks to Linden and never expresses her true thoughts. Readers only learn that she has a crush on Linden when his friend Thomas tells him. And, both novels offer a happy, yet less than convincing, ending.

     Wild Dog Summer first appeared in 1990, and a few scenes will sound dated to modern readers (i.e., references to Princess Diana). Still, Mills tackles important issues (underage drinking in Wild Dog Summer and parental dysfunction in both books) that should resonate with todayís readers.

Recommended with reservations.

Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Childrenís Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

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

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