The Other Side
The Other Side
“I take it those articles are from Alessia. Akin’s gone crazy with that laminator.” I quickly shove the articles back in my bag, feel a pain shoot along the back of my neck from the awkward way my head was resting on the chair, and rub it. Mom grabs the remote and switches to the sports channel with the soccer recap.
“You want to talk?” she asks. Of course she asks. “You haven’t been sleeping. Are these chairs more comfortable?” Funny. She’s always trying to find the funny. The little thing we can laugh at. Jewish humor. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
She turns a chair to face me, looks me straight in the eyes so I can’t look away. “You are having a normal reaction to a not-normal situation, sweetheart.” She pauses to make sure I’m listening. I don’t have much choice, even if I desperately want to shift my eyes to the recap. “It’s okay to feel anxious, to be frustrated and angry, and to question the screwy way the world works. It’s not okay to keep it all bottled up. You’ll explode. You have to be honest with yourself.”
“People see dead bodies all the time,” I say.
“If you’re a coroner or work in the funeral business. Otherwise, I would hope not so much. But you’re also worrying about soccer, visiting your dying grandfather, and hearing stories about death and destruction. It’s overwhelming. And it’s not over yet.”
She means Opa. He’s not over yet. I pick up the remote and twirl it in my fingers. “The World Cup’s going well.”
She smiles. “Well, at least that’s something.” She dips out of view, comes back with two cups of water, and turns the chair to sit next to me. I take a look at the TV, but it’s useless. Nothing registers.
Liam may only be 12-years-old, but he understands stress. His grandfather is in palliative care, dying with pancreatic cancer, and no one expects him to live much longer. And Liam is an excellent soccer player hoping to attend an elite soccer school if he does well at the tryouts…more pressure. And then, while visiting his Opa’s home in Prince Edward County, Liam discovers a body on the beach. The police at first think the death is accidental, but Liam is convinced the girl did not simply fall through a weak spot on the beach stairs and sets out to discover what really happened to her.
Because Heather Camlot gives her young adult audience a mystery story which has overtones of both family drama and historical novel, this book will have wide appeal. Liam narrates the story and, until recently, his main focus has been soccer. School and reading and everything else are simply a means to an end. Some of the main delights in his life have been his Opa’s coaching and advice and the joy of watching soccer matches together.
Liam’s German grandfather is a major influence both in Liam’s life and in the plot of the novel. He fought for the Germans in World War II, a fact that Liam finds difficult to understand and almost impossible to empathize with, particularly given that Liam’s mom is of Jewish heritage. As Liam visits the palliative care ward, he learns more about his grandfather’s background before and during the war and what happened after the war to bring him to Canada. While Liam doesn’t understand or agree with much of what he is told, his grandfather emphasizes that knowledge of our past is essential in order to plan for the future.
Other secondary characters include Liam’s parents who are doing their best to be helpful and supportive, his sister who adds both interest and comedy to the plot, and his friend Alessia, a black girl who loves to read and who contributes a great deal to the eventual unraveling of the mystery of how and why Calynn was murdered.
The Other Side is written with middle-grade students in mind, and so the story is age-appropriate and Liam is a believable character who is just on the verge of his teenage years. Much of the novel is introspective as Liam tries to deal with both the death of the stranger on the beach and the impending death of his grandparent. Readers see the effects of these traumas first-hand through Liam’s eyes. For some young readers, there may be too many long passages where Liam attempts to work through what is happening to him. However, there is enough action and intrigue to keep the plot moving. Fans of soccer will appreciate both Liam’s matches and the details from the World Cup of 2014 which Liam and his grandfather watch together.
As well as the mental health aspects of the book, Camlot gives her readers lots of World War II details told from Opa’s point of view. This highlights a portion of this era for those interested in history and also illustrates the importance of inter-generational ties within families and the need to pass along stories from the elders to the next generations. Camlot neatly ties in grandfather’s history lessons with the investigation into the girl’s death, and so the two become intertwined as the novel moves to its climax and conclusion.
The book’s title, The Other Side, pulls together various aspects of this story. As the author, herself, puts it in an interview at the end of the book, the title refers to several things: “…the other side of war, the other side of the soccer field, the other side of life.” (p. 231)
Murder and suspense, coping with trauma and death, understanding the relevance of history…..this novel combines important themes and an interesting cast of characters in a well-written and thought-provoking story.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.