Lost Cause by John Wilson

Lost Cause
Steve, seventeen, had an uneasy relationship with his grandfather.  However, when David McLean dies at the age of 92 and leaves each of his seven grandsons envelopes that contain a different last request of each of them, the teen is intrigued.
In his letter, Grandpa challenges Steve to solve a mystery of sorts, to discover a part of his past that David McLean never talked about.  He is to travel to Barcelona, in Spain, and visit an old friend of his grandfather named Maria Garcia.  In the envelope Steve also finds a faded photograph of a smiling boy and girl, both about his age, standing in a doorway.  On the wall next to them are painted a hammer and sickle and the words Mac Pap.  He recognizes the boy as a young David McLean.
By the time he flies to Spain, Steve knows that David McLean’s mystery involves the Spanish Civil War, and the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion which was part of the International Brigade.  He also knows that this brigade was formed of tens of thousands of socialists and communists who flocked to Spain to support the Spanish government in their fight against a rebellion staged by the army and financed by Fascist governments in Germany and Italy.
Steve’s first inkling that, though it lies some seventy years in the past, the Spanish Civil War remains present in the memories of Spaniards comes as he rides the bus from the airport into Barcelona.  He has a chance conversation with a young woman about his reasons for visiting the city.  When she identifies him to her companions as grandson of a member of the Brigadas Internacionales, they break into a spontaneous round of Viva la Quince Brigada.
Arriving at Maria Garcia’s address, Steve recognizes 71 Carrer de la Portaferrissa as the doorway from the photo, the one in which his grandfather stood next to the young girl.  He is shocked when the door is opened by that same beautiful young girl.  A few minutes pass before he realizes that Laia is, in fact, the great-granddaughter of Maria Garcia, the woman whom he has come to see.  Laia welcomes him into the house and gives him a second letter from David McLean in which he instructs his grandson to open the small suitcase he left with Maria, a young Republican nurse with whom he fell in love during the weeks he spent in Barcelona in 1938.  Steve is to ask her to tell him about its contents.  Unfortunately, Maria has recently died.
Together, Steve and Laia open the battered old suitcase.  Inside they find yellowed newspaper articles, pamphlets, and other mementos of the months David McLean spent with the Mac-Paps.  They also find a journal he kept from the moment he crossed the Pyrenees from France into Spain by night.  In that first entry, he was full of the enthusiasm and idealism of a young man prepared to give his life in the service of what is honourable and right.  Both Steve and Laia find themselves drawn into the account of his experiences.
The two teenagers make a pact.  They will read one journal entry at a time while retracing, as best they can, David McLean’s journey through Spain and the Spanish Civil War during four turbulent and difficult months in 1938.  Steve and Laia travel to the Ebre River where, in the summer and fall of that year, the longest and bloodiest battle of the war took place.  They read about the weeks of training David McLean and his fellow recruits underwent and how, though supplies are very scarce, the young men were confident that victory was within their grasp.
However from Laia Steve learns that, by the time his grandfather joined the International Brigade, the war was going badly for the Republicans.  While Germany and Italy had armed General Franco and the Nationalists, nations such as Canada, England and the United States had refused to come to the aid of the Republicans, fearing that by doing so they might further destabilize Europe.
At Flix, where David McLean and the Mac-Paps crossed the Ebre, Steve and Laia rent rooms from an elderly woman who views them both with suspicion until she discovers the reason for their visit.  Like the strangers on the bus in Barcelona, she sings Viva la Quince Brigada, and thanks Steve repeatedly for his grandfather’s commitment to the Republican cause.  In his journal, Laia and Steve read about the Mac-Pap’s preparations to cross the river, and the rumours about tanks that would join the push toward Corbera and Gandesa.
At first, they learn, the offensive went well.  David McLean and his fellow soldiers crossed the river and headed south.  The attack caught the Nationalists by surprise and the Republicans encountered little initial resistance.  However all too soon the tide began to turn against the Mac-Paps and their fellow Republicans, and David McLean witnessed his first casualties.
Laia and Steve rent scooters and travel first to Ascó and then along the valley to Corbera and Gandesa.  They visit the tunnels in which local residents to shelter during the worst of the fighting, the Memorial of the Camposines, dedicated to the soldiers who fought on both sides of the battle, the remains of trenches preserved since the war, and, in La Faterelle, a museum dedicated to the International Brigades.
In entries dating from late July 1938, Steve and Laia read about the Mac-Paps push toward Gandesa and the increasingly heavy barrage of bombs they faced from enemy planes.  At Cordera, the Battalion discovered a town reduced to rubble.  David McLean watched as two of his friends rescued a young boy trapped in the wreckage of his family’s house.  In those entries, he remained committed to the Republican cause but began to question whether, when it came to war, the end ever justified the means.
Steve and Laia leave the Museum of 115 Days in Cordera, asking themselves the same question.  Their confusion grows when they read David McLean’s account of the battle to take Gandesa, during which he witnessed terrible acts of brutality, and watched several of his closest companions die.  He also killed one of the enemy.
Later in his journal, Steve’s grandfather wrote about his shock and grief, as well as about his naïvety about war and its destructiveness.  A chance meeting with the elderly man whom David McLean’s friends rescued as a small boy from the ruins of his house, raises further questions in Steve and Laia’s minds about everything that his grandfather and her great-grandmother fought so hard to protect all those years ago, questions for which they may never be able to find answers.
Written by John Wilson, whose previous books included Flames of the Tiger, Where Soldiers Lie, and Shot at Dawn, Lost Cause is one of the Seven series and tells the story of what a teenaged boy and the young Spanish girl who befriends him discover about the months his dead grandfather spent fighting for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.  Filled with the passion and sacrifice, destruction, loss, love and regret of that long-ago time, and set against the growing friendship between two modern-day teens drawn together by their shared history, Lost Cause is bound to touch and intrigue readers from Grade 5.
FernFolio Editor

The Horse Road by Troon Harrison

Horse Road
Fourteen-year-old Kallisto is the privileged daughter of a Sarmatian horsewoman, stolen from her village and sold into slavery, and the wealthy Greek trader who bought, freed and married her.  She spends her time between her parents’ house in Ershi and the farm in the Ferghana Valley where her mother raises and trains Persian horses, between Lila, her beautiful and educated city friend, and Batu, her nomad friend and the son of a white bone chief.
Kalli and Batu are taking part in the annual horse race to determine the fastest and strongest horse in the Ferghana Valley.  For the young girl, it is perhaps her last summer of freedom for she may soon marry the young man to whom father has arranged her betrothal.  Batu’s horse goes lame, and Kalli drops out to make sure her friend is all right.  Together they spot a great army and realize it has been sent by the Chinese Emperor to seize the valley’s famous Persian horses.
When they don’t return with the other racers, Kalli’s mother rides out to find Kalli and Batu.   As they tend to his horse’s injuries, Batu, the women and their horses are attacked by a snow leopard.  Leaping to the defence of Gryphon, her prize stallion, Kalli’s mother is badly injured before Kalli and Batu and the stallion drive the cat away.
Humans and horses, they return to the nomad camp where Batu’s family tends to her mother while Kalli worries about her, the horses, and the approaching war.  When Batu decides to send his mother’s herd into the mountains, Kalli asks him to send the wounded Gryphon with them.  At last reaching her mother’s horse farm, Kalli and Batu discover that her mares and yearlings and foals have been moved into the walled city of Ershi for safety.  Though she is barely able to sit on her horse, Kalli’s mother insists on accompanying her daughter and Batu back to her house in the city.
The journey is hard on Kalli’s mother.  She has to be lifted from her horse, and put to bed where she rapidly falls into a fever- and opium-induced unconsciousness.  With her mother gravely ill and her father and older brothers away trading, it falls to Kalli to ensure that the household and her mother’s horses are safe.  Ershi is besieged by the Chinese imperial armies and finding food for the horses becomes difficult.  Then a drought starts and the city’s wells dry up.  There are rumours that the enemy has diverted the rivers that fill Ershi’s aqueducts and that it is tunnelling under the city’s walls in an effort to breach them.
Arash, the wealthy young man to whom Kalli has been betrothed since she was a young child, pays an unexpected visit to her family house, insisting on entry even though her father is away and her mother is too ill to receive him.  He claims to come at the behest of the king to survey the household’s Persian horses.  At his insistence, Kalli reluctantly leads Arash to the stable where Swan, her beautiful white horse, is housed.  A couple of days later, while she is out once again scouring the city for food, Arash pays a second visit to Kall’s house.  This time he takes Swan away.
Furious, Kalli goes to Arash and demands that he return her horse.  He refuses, claiming that, as her future husband, he is entitled to take an animal that will form part of her bride wealth.  Somewhat impatiently, the young man explains that he plans to present Swan to the king so that she can be sacrificed by the priests.  The gift will curry favour with Ershi’s ruler, something which is far more important to him than the feelings of his betrothed.
Desperate, Kalli begs Arash for some means of saving Swan from death.  He allows that the king recently admired a beautiful gold harness that his father subsequently wagered and lost.  If she can find the merchant who sold his father that harness and purchase its mate, then he will spare Swan.  He gives her seven days to bring him the harness.
Though her best friend Lila tells her she’s crazy and that, perhaps, it is Swan’s fate to die for the city, Kalli makes plans to get outside the walls of Ershi and travel into the hills in search of the merchant.  She disguises herself as a warrior, buys a raw gelding in the hippodrome, and joins the cavalry when they ride out one morning to engage the enemy.  She experiences the numbing, gut-wrenching fear and the savage exhilaration of battle before slipping away from the fighting, removing her borrowed armoury, and riding for the place where Batu’s people currently camped.
Her childhood friend who, with a group of young nomads, has been staging nightly raids on the enemy’s camps, is delighted to see her.  When he hears that Swan’s life hangs in the balance, Batu agrees to ride with her in search of the merchant.  Reunited with Gryphon, who has recovered from his encounter with the leopard, Kalli and Batu ride out together to look for Failak, whom they have learned is, in fact, a warlord.  They find him camped with his men in a village which he has stolen from its original inhabitants.
When he hears her story about her white horse about to sacrificed if she cannot procure a golden harness, Failak tells Kalli that the harness so admired by the king came from an ancient burial tomb.  He agrees to take her there so that she can search for a second harness among the goods buried with the priestess.  Kalli is shaken when Batu is adamant that he not help her rob a tomb; he is afraid of very few things but freely admits he fears the ghosts of the dead.
Furious at his betrayal and filled with guilt about what she is about to do, Kalli goes with Failak to the tomb.  While he waits outside, she crawls into the burial chamber through the narrow entrance tunnel and searches through the bones and beads and shards but finds no golden harness.  Despairing, she makes her way back through the tunnel to the entrance only to find that Failak has sealed it with a large stone.  Through the tiny opening that remains, the warlord tells her that he has decided to hold her ransom and that she will remain imprisoned in the tomb until her father pays for her release.
Realizing that she has failed to win a reprieve for Swan, Kalli falls into fog of grief in which she begins to hear the voices of the ghosts who haunt the tomb.  She believes she will not live long enough to be released.  However, after five days an earthquake strikes, shaking the ground and sending rock and timber crashing to the floor of the underground tomb.  Kalli notices that the walls of the tomb seem unstable and throws herself into tearing the loosened rock away largely with her bare hands.
At length, she is able to ease her body out of the tomb and into the blue of the morning but a sudden tremor sends a tree crashing onto her legs.  Fortunately, she spies Gryphon with the warlord’s herd of horses and whistles for the stallion.  With his help, she frees herself from under the tree, and locates Batu, who has been searching for her since her disappearance.  The two escape the warlord’s men on Gryphon’s back.
From Batu’s people, Kalli learns that the siege is over and the war has ended.  Ershi has a new king who has agreed to trade with Imperial China.  Anxious about her mother and grieving for her horse, the young girl returns home accompanied by her nomad friend.  To her surprise and relief, Kalli finds her mother awake and lucid. She also discovers that Swan is not dead but is lost to her all the same; eager to curry favour with the new king and his allies, her traitorous betrothed has traded her horse to the Chinese.
Determined to get Swan back, Kalli resolves to confront Sheng Mu, Master of Horses for the Imperial Army.  Dressed in her finest silks, she rides out on Gryphon’s back accompanied by Batu and Lila and demands the return of her horse.  Kalli proposes a contest between herself and the horse master’s best rider.  If she wins, she will keep Swan and draw up an agreement between Sheng and her father’s trading house for the exchange of Persian horses and silk.  Intrigued, the horse master agrees.  The contest that follows challenges the young girl’s courage, strength and stamina.  She reaches the final part trailing Chang, the master horseman whom Sheng has selected to represent him.  However, Kalli exhibits such athletic prowess and what the Horse Master terms magnificent foolishness, that Sheng lets her take Swan home.
Kalli’s trader father returns a few days later to learn of his daughter’s daring and the shrewd agreement she has drawn up on behalf of his trading house.  Hearing of Arash’s duplicity, he agrees to cancel the betrothal and give his daughter her heart’s desire, a horse farm where she can raise and train her own Persians.
Written by Troon Harrison, The Horse Road is the story of a young girl’s adventures during the siege of Ershi by the Chinese Imperial Army during the 2nd century B.C. as she struggles to protect her mother’s horses and rescue her own horse, stolen by the scheming young man to whom she is betrothed.  Set against the backdrop of the early silk road, which saw traders ply their wares from the Mediterranean all the way to China, peopled with strong characters such as Kalli, her friends Batu and Lila and their very different mothers, and filled with the splendid details of a long-ago meeting-place of civilizations, this absorbing book is bound to fascinate readers from Grade 5.
FernFolio Editor

My Name is Parvana by Deborah Ellis

Soldiers find the young girl in the ruins of a bombed-out school for girls.  Though they take her in for questioning, she does not make eye contact and does not speak.  In her bag they find a battered copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and what appears to be the girl’s journal full of letters to someone named Shauzia.  An army major tells the corporal who is acting as interpreter that he has a nose for spotting trouble and this young girl has it written all over her.  Repeatedly they ask her, in Dari and Pashtu and Uzbek, what her name is and what she was doing in the ruins of the school.  She doesn’t reply, though she understands and speaks English.  Her name is Parvana.
She is locked up in a cell in the brig where she spends long hours sitting at the end of the cot, ready for whatever might happen next.  After waiting until the soldier who pushes them through the slot at the bottom of her door walks away, she inspects the MREs and eats the contents while she reads everything printed on the labels and wishes that, rather than ingredients and nutritional values, there were poems and stories instead.  She stares out the small window of her cell to catch a glimpse of the blue Afghan sky.
She is made to sit on a hard chair or stand for hours while questions are barked at her.  When she nods asleep, a soldier bangs a baseball bat near her head.  They pipe Donny Osmond’s Puppy Love day and night into her cell and promise to turn it off if she will speak.  She does not utter a single word.
In her mind, Parvana remembers how she found the abandoned building, how her mother worked hard to secure funding from international NGOs to transform it into a school for girls, and how they cleaned and painted and dreamed of changing young lives.  Her adoptive brother Asif taught woodworking and took care of repairs, her older sister Nooria taught the primary class, she and her little sister Maryam tended the school gardens and studied hard under their mother’s exacting eye, and, as Headmistress, her mother oversaw everything.
However, right from the start there were threats.  Many in the village had had no schooling and leapt at the opportunity to educate their daughters, especially when they learned the girls would be fed at school, but others muttered that evil things were taking place behind the walls of Leila’s Academy of Hope.  They posted threatening notices in the village and jostled and hit Parvana if they found her walking unescorted.  Many students stopped coming, and teachers failed to show up to teach their classes.
Then one day Parvana’s mother went to a meeting to discuss the creation of a university for women and failed to return home.  Her body was dumped outside the school two days later.  Pinned to it is a note that read, “This woman ran a school for evil girls.  Now she is dead.  Her school will be closed.”
Grief-stricken and worried about her siblings, Parvana made a telephone call to her old friend Mrs. Weera, now a member of the Afghan parliament.  The person at the other end of the line promised to pass along her message, but days went by with no reply.  Then one morning, an old peddler knocked at the gate of the school demanding entrance.  He turned out to be her old friend Shauzia, sent by Mrs. Weera to rescue Parvana and her family.  However something goes wrong during that rescue: Leila’s Academy of Hope is bombed during a foreign airstrike and Parvana is found all alone in its ruins.  Captured by foreign soldiers, she knows that, no matter what, she must not speak.
Written by the incomparable Deborah Ellis, author of Canadian children’s classics such as The Heaven Shop, Three Wishes and I Am a Taxi, My Name is Parvana is the fourth book in the Breadwinner series and tells the story of the school for girls founded by Parvana and her family, a project begun in hope but that falls victim to the ongoing war against girls and women waged by Afghanistan’s religious fundamentalists.    Wonderful characters, a gripping plot, and Ellis’ superb writing combine to make My Name is Parvana a must-read for every socially-minded young Canadian.
FernFolio Editor

From Far Away by Robert Munsch and Saoussan Askar and Michael Martchenko

Young Saoussan comes to Canada with her parents and older sister from a war zone far away.  Her father takes her to school, shows her the girls’ washroom, tells her to be good and listen to her teacher, and leaves.
The little girl, who speaks no English, cannot understand what her teacher and the other children are saying and they aren’t able to understand her, either.  When she needs to go to the washroom, she crawls to the door, waits for someone to open it, and then crawls into the hall before heading to the washroom.  She returns to her desk in the same way.
One day, Saoussan goes to the washroom and finds a Hallowe’en skeleton.  Unfamiliar with Hallowe’en, she recalls the war she has left behind and starts to scream.  Her teacher comes running and tries to explain about Hallowe’en and the paper skeleton, but the little girl cannot understand and screams all the louder.  As her teacher hugs her close, Saoussan pees all over her and does not know the words to say she is sorry but her tears say it for her.  She is waiting at the front doors of the school determined not to return there, when her father arrives to pick her up.
She has bad dreams about skeletons for a long time, but slowly learns enough English to make friends and start to enjoy school.  By the time she is seven, she is the best reader and speller in her class, and the teacher complains she never stops talking.  The following Hallowe’en she dresses up and goes trick-or-treating with her older sister.  Her kindergarten teacher no longer teaches at her school, but once in a while Saoussan sees her at the mall and runs up and gives her a big hug.
Written by Robert Munsch and Saoussan Askar, who wrote the popular Canadian children’s author a letter, and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, From Far Away is the story of a young girl’s first months in Canada after moving here in 1991 from war-torn Beirut.  Munsch and Askar’s depiction of that child’s experiences juxtaposed against Martchenko’s haunting watercolours make for a gripping and sometimes humorous book.  A thought-provoking read for Canadian children from 5 years old.
FernFolio Editor

First Descent by Pam Withers

Ever since he was a little kid, Rex Scruggs has had only one ambition.  Win the respect and approval and, heck, maybe even the love, of his difficult grandfather.  It isn’t easy to be the grandson of Malcolm Scruggs whose house is filled with trophies and medals from his years as an international-level kayaker, and whose kayaking exploits on the rivers of the Columbian Andes decades earlier earned him a write-up in National Geographic magazine.  Now seventeen, Rex, who has inherited from Gramps his fiercely competitive nature, is determined to travel to Columbia and kayak The Furiosos, the river that his grandfather never finished.  He is determined to be the first to kayak it from top to bottom, and claim its first descent.
Rex trains every morning on the river behind Gramps’ house in Milltown, Alberta.  He has taken Spanish in high school.  He has participated in the world kayaking championships.  He has lined up sponsors for his expedition to Columbia, and his mother has somehow talked her father into underwriting the rest of cost.  Gramps and his mother have spoken to officials at the Columbian Embassy, and have been assured that the region in which Rex will be travelling is currently safe from guerilla and paramilitary hostilities.  The Columbia Tourist Board has offered him a gift certificate for week’s kayak rental from Expediciones del Ríos, River Expeditions.  He has persuaded Henrique Coutinho and Tiago Fialho, two Brazilians whom he met at the world championships to accompany him.  At long last, Rex Scruggs is ready to take on The Furiosos.
Ever difficult, Gramps imposes some last-minute conditions on Rex’s trip.  First, should hostilities break out once again between the Columbian army, the paramilitary and the guerillas, he will quickly get himself out of the country.  Second, he will try to find the Calambáses, an indigenous family from whom Malcolm purchased a beautiful old necklace for the price of an avocado sandwich.
Myriam Calambrás lives with her family in a small village in the Andean mountains of southwest Columbia.  Also seventeen, she has worked hard to excel in school, and to learn English.  Myriam wants to attend university and become a journalist so that she can tell the world about the desperate plight of her people, caught between the guerillas and the paramilitary, hired by wealthy landowners to track them down, and pressed on all sides by the competing interests of these opposing forces.  She has secretly written the university entrance exams, though she knows that her family expects her to marry Alberto and train as a healer with Abuelita, her elderly and increasingly frail grandmother.  “Indígenas do not go to university, especially indígena girls,” says Abuelita, but Myriam knows that university is free to indígenas and includes room and board.  If she must, the girl is prepared to runaway to university; she simply has to find a way to pay for the six-hour bus ride.
Myriam’s boyfriend and the young man who fully expects her to marry him, Alberto is tired of the tightrope their community walks between the army, the guerillas and the paramilitary, tired of the taunts and insults, the casual vandalism and thefts committed by their soldiers.  He wants to join the guerillas, and, despite Myriam’s warnings, he has bought their promise of protection, food and money.   Alberto is fiercely against Myriam speaking English, as well as any thought of her attending university.  Though she has tried to explain to him why it’s important for her to get an education, he can’t, or won’t, listen.
Myriam has grown up with the story of how, when she was a young girl, her Abuelita met a white man hiking in the up the mountainside who saw her necklace and offered to buy it.  Starving, she instead traded it for an avocado sandwich.  Later, when he became very ill and his companions left him, she took healing plants to this white man’s camp, and tended to him until he was well enough to leave.
Myriam reflects that, in depriving them of that valuable necklace, this stranger took advantage of her family is the same way that her village has been taken advantage of by both the paramilitary soldiers and the guerillas.  Paramilitary soldiers stop members of Myriam’s village as they hike down the mountain on their way to market, threaten them, and steal Alberto’s radio.  Only days later, guerillas raid the village, abuse the young boy who was standing guard, and steal their coca plants, used by local residents for medicinal purposes and by the guerillas to make cocaine which they sell to pay for uniforms, weapons and salaries.  Rumours reach the village that paramilitary have killed several people in a nearby community.  Myriam’s family, friends and neighbours know they must be cautious when they leave the village because both sides have planted land mines to kill the other, only too often neutral indígenas are maimed and killed instead.
Landing in Columbia, Rex is collected from the airport by Jock, of Expediciones del Ríos.  Jock doesn’t yet know that Rex’ goal is the Furiosos.  He believes that the young Canadian plans, instead, to kayak the much calmer Magdalena River.  When Rex tells him, Jock tries hard to dissuade the young kayaker, explaining that The Furiosos runs through indígenas land.  However Rex figures he can get the natives’ co-operation with a little money or, perhaps, an avocado sandwich.
Installed in his hotel and recalling his second promise to Gramps, Rex heads to the local market and, in his fractured Spanish, asks for the Calambrás family.  He meets Abuelita who has come to sell her medicinal plants in the market.  The old woman immediately recognizes Rex as Malcolm’s grandson and introduces him to Myriam.  Realizing that, with her local knowledge and her ability to speak English, she’d make an excellent guide, Rex quickly hires Myriam, though she demands an exorbitant sum of money to take him to The Furiosos.  Though he knows she’s out bargained him, Rex can’t help but notice that Myriam is a beautiful girl.
The following day, Henrique and Tiago, Rex and Jock kayak the Magdalena River.  Rex tells Jock he’s hired a guide, and Jock recognizes Myriam from his description of the girl, but warns the young Canadian that he doubts The Furiosos is runnable.  In return, Rex tells Jock that his grandfather travelled part of the river decades years earlier and that he has inside information, including Gramps’ journal from that trip.
As agreed, Alberto brings two mules from the village to cart the kayaks up to the headwaters of The Furiosos.  Though he fulfills his part of the job, Alberto makes it clear that he neither likes Rex nor will waste any time talking to him.  However, he does insist on Rex dressing in his old sweatshirt and bowl-style felt hat when they come upon a group of soldiers because, with his pale skin, the young Canadian sticks out as a foreigner.  Rex notices that, as soon as Alberto reaches the village, his demeanour changes.  He smiles and laughs, greets the woman and plays with the children.  When, at length, Myriam informs her would-be fiancé that she won’t marry him, Alberto will join the guerillas, and expose the people of his village to the very real danger of paramilitary reprisals.
Rex is warmly welcomed to the village by Abuelita.  She tells him that he looks like his grandfather, and adds that Malcolm Scruggs became very ill when he visited, which Rex, having read his Gramps’ journal countless times, knows isn’t true.  She also mentions something about a necklace.  Later, after the old woman has gone to bed, Rex tells Myriam about his talk with her and realizes that his necklace once belonged to Abuelita, that she is the woman who traded it for an avocado sandwich.  Myriam concludes the old story by saying the man became ill, his companions left, her grandmother took healing herbs to his camp, and eventually he left.  Surprised, Rex confesses that the man was his grandfather, but adds that Abuelita’s story is not correct.
Rex and his two companions begin their descent of the Furiosos.  When, on that first day, they stop for a break, Tiago and Henrique share with Rex what they have heard about guerilla and paramilitary activity in the area but the young Canadian refuses to listen to their warnings.  Instead, he accuses them of being chicken.  That afternoon, a crop duster flies overhead but it’s not dusting crops, it’s dropping poison on the guerillas’ illegal coca fields.  Unfortunately, it also kills the fish in the tanks Myriam’s community has recently built along the edge of the river, and destroys the food crops in their fields.  The villagers are devastated by this latest development.  All of their food and much of their source of income has been destroyed.  Presented with this latest evidence of trouble, Tiago and Henrique decide to head home to Brazil.  Rex, however, is determined to finish his run down The Furiosos, and claim his first descent.
While sightings of guerillas and paramilitary soldiers mount, and the danger to Myriam’s village and Rex Scruggs increase, the young kayaker ignores every lesson he has ever learned about safety on the water, and battles each new section of the river with only Myriam and a rescue throw rope to fish him out should he run into trouble.  Then disaster strikes, and Rex is kidnapped by guerillas who plan to demand a huge ransom for his safe return.  At the same time, the paramilitary stages a devastating retaliatory strike against Myriam’s village.
Knowing his grandfather and mother don’t have the means to pay a ransom, the teen falls into a depression and refuses to eat.  Faced with the destruction of her village, Myriam, on the other hand, is more determined than ever to become a journalist and tell the world of her people’s plight.  When a very changed Alberto slips him a message from Myriam, Rex begins to take heart.  Freed from his prison by Alberto, Rex, the young guerilla and Myriam undertake a desperate run down the most dangerous part of The Furiosos hemmed in by land mines on either side and pursued by the guerillas.  During the long hours of their flight, Rex learns that he is far more than merely an expert kayaker and that his quest for a first descent to impress his Gramps means nothing by comparison with the life-and-death struggle of Myriam’s people.
Written by Pam Withers, First Descent is the gripping story of a young man who sets out to conquer a Columbian river and prove his worth to a difficult grandfather, and finds himself, instead, in the middle of a brutal tit-for-tat war between guerillas and paramilitary soldiers in which the real victims are the indígenas, Columbia’s native people.  He also discovers the truth behind his grandfather’s failed attempt at running the river decades earlier, and the secret Gramps never revealed in all the years that followed.  Note: there is an unfortunate and annoying error in the calculation of how many years have passed since Malcolm Scruggs tried to kayak The Furiosos, one that ought to be corrected in future reprintings.  Otherwise an adventure-filled book for readers from Grade 7.
FernFolio Editor

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter

When war comes to the city of Basra, librarian Alia Muhammad Baker worries that the books will be destroyed.  She asks the governor for permission to move them to a safe place but he refuses so Alia starts to secretly take the books home, one car full at a time.
As the city comes under fire, Alia recruits her friend Anis, who owns a restaurant next to the library.  Aided by local shopkeepers and neighbours, the two friends work through the night to remove the books to Anis’ restaurant until Alia can hire a truck to hide the books in her house and those of her friends.  The library burns to the ground but its librarian has saved most of its books.  She waits now for peace and a new library.
Written and illustrated by Jeanette Baker, The Librarian of Basra is the true story of one brave woman’s determination to save a library’s collection, which is more precious to her than mountains of gold.  This powerful story with its beautiful and evocative illustrations will capture the imaginations of readers from 5 years old.
FernFolio Editor

Torn from Troy by Patrick Bowman

Fifteen-year-old Alexi and Melantha, his nineteen-year-old sister, awaken on the morning following a day of wild celebrations to mark the departure of the Greeks’ black-sailed ships after ten years of war.  Along with their fellow Trojans, Alexi and Meli danced and ate and drank late into the night, overjoyed at end of a decade-long siege that has kept them captives within their city walls and made orphans of the young siblings.
The two have endured three years of poverty since their physician father’s death.  Forced to sell everything they owned to support themselves in a city close to starvations, Alexi and Meli live in a storage room above a bakery on the wrong side of town with nothing but a small table, a stool, a battered tripod and pot, and the worn clothes on their back.
With the end of the Trojan War, perhaps things will improve for Alexi and his sister but the boy will remember, later, that Cassandra, King Priam’s mad daughter, ran through the celebrating crowds shouting of Priam’s city, in flames and dying.  He will also recall that she grabbed him out of the throngs and, fixing her mad eyes upon him, urged him to, “Live.  Accept [his] father’s gift.”
One that morning after their celebrations, it is the sound of shouting and doors being broken down that will rouse the two in their small room.  Looking out of their small window, Meli sees men in armour breaking down the doors of Pylacon’s smithy, and recognizes them as Greek soldiers.  Shocked, Alexi cannot understand how the Greeks got with the walls that have repelled them for ten years of war; those walls are as high as an oak and wide enough for two chariots to race along the top.  Perhaps he will never discover that the gates to Troy were opened for them by Greek soldiers hidden inside a great wooden horse.
Alexi and his sister huddle behind their tattered blanket and almost escape detection when two soldiers burst into their room but the door is ripped from its leather hinges and lands on Alexi’s toes, causing him to gasp in pain.  In a desperate bid to save her brother, Meli steps forward, begging the soldiers not to hurt her.  When one of them throws the girl over his shoulder, she stabs him in the thigh with her dagger and is flung down the stairs where she lands in a lifeless heap.
Horrified by what has happened to his sister, Alexi cries out, drawing the attention of the soldiers, and, grabbing his sister’s knife from the floor, he stabs her captor in the neck, killing him.  Determined to honour Meli’s sacrifice by saving himself from capture, the boy climbs out the window to the roof and scrambles across a beam that spans the street.  From there he clambers down to street level and throws off the soldiers who hunt him by hiding in a sewage culvert.  When he creeps out of the sewers the following day, it is to the sight of neighbours lying in pools of blood.
Mischance propels Alexi into the arms of some Greek soldiers and, although he runs, he is soon captured by one who is eager to cut his throat.  He responds with a retort that earns hatred of the soldier, a brutish bully whose name is Ury, as well as the notice of the soldier’s commander, for Alexi has spoken in Greek.  Questioned, he admits that his grandmother was Greek and lies that he is only twelve years old.
The Greek commander decides that the boy might prove useful, and so Alexi becomes a slave.  Under Ury’s orders, he helps to haul carts of looted treasure from Troy down to the Greek ships that line the shore, the same ships that had sailed away only days before, and begins to learn the hardships and simmering resentment of slavery.  He watches as the Greeks slaughter and eat Trojan livestock, and meets other Trojans enslaved to Lopex, the Greek commander.  It is only when soldiers come to Ury to tell the Greek of his brother’s death, does Alexi realize that this piece of work is brother to the man he killed.  He doesn’t need to hear Ury’s vow to find his brother’s killer and make him beg for death to know that he has made a dangerous enemy in the brute.
Alexi and his fellow slaves endure the casual brutality of the Greeks, and are worn thin and exhausted by a never-ending list of tasks, and too little food or rest.  When the Greeks set sail, some three days after their rout of Troy, Alexi learns that his new master, Lopex, plans to use him as ship boy, the messenger who hops from bench to bench over rowers’ oars from the bow, where his master sits, to the stern, where the steersmen ply their poles.
Alexi and his fellow slaves observe as Lopex and his men plan and carry out a raid on a nearby town, only to narrowly avoid snatching defeat out of the hands of victory when the Greek soldiers decide to celebrate their prowess rather than stowing their spoils and setting sail as their commander orders.  Only Lopex’ inspired leadership saves the black-sailed ships and their crews.  Though he continues to view the Greeks as enemies and bitterly resents his enslavement, Alexi finds himself admiring his master’s wily and inspiring leadership.  Nevertheless, it comes as a shock to discover that Lopex is the Greek’s nickname; he is, in fact, the famous Odysseus.
Lopex recognizes Alexi’s skill as a healer and puts him to work caring for the wounded.  He also sees in the young boy a humanity that supersedes his natural resentment.  Soon Alexi is accompanying small parties of Greek soldiers on their explorations.  With them he will visit the Island of the Lotus Eaters, and come under the powerful spell of the narcotic.  He will cower in abject horror as a Cyclops traps and eats  hapless Greek soldiers after trapping them in his cave home, before stumbling upon the perfect ruse to escape the one-eyed giant.  As the months pass and the adventures multiply, Alexi will discover that, though he has lost his family and his home and his people, he may have gained a new father of sorts.
Written by Patrick Bowman, Torn from Troy is the exciting story of a young boy’s experiences following the sack of Troy and his enslavement to Odysseus, the Greek hero whose fantastical ten-year voyage home from the Trojan War was chronicled in Homer’s Odyssey.  Filled with historical detail, and the stuff of myths and legend, and certain to be the first of a series, Torn from Troy is bound to delight readers from Grade 6.
FernFolio Editor

Thunder Over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay

Yasmine, fourteen, was born and grew up in Oxford, England, but has lived for nearly a year in Herat, Afghanistan.  The daughter of Afghani exiles, she has been raised on the stories of her parents, but sees herself very much as an English school girl.
Her father has brought the family to Herat because he has felt a call back to the land, and wants to take a active role in the reconstruction of his homeland.  Educated at Oxford before becoming a professor there, Baba now teaches at the University in Herat.  Yasmine’s Radcliffe-educated mother supports her husband’s ideals, and works hard to share her enthusiasm about their new life with her daughter, but the young girl longs to return home to England.
Life in Afghanistan is very different to that at home.  Though the Taliban have been overthrown, their continued presence throws long shadows over every aspect of daily life.  Yasmine is troubled by the “windows to nowhere,” every opening to the outside must be covered to ensure that men passing by the house cannot catch a glimpse of Yasmine or her mother.  She dislikes the hijab she must remember to wear whenever she goes out, or, rather, she dislikes the idea that she has no choice but to wear it.  Her mother is teaching her what is halal, correct for Muslims, and what is haraam, or unacceptable, but the rules seem endless and complicated.  She cannot look at a man who is not a member of her family.  She cannot draw faces or people.  She must be careful not to act in a way that is not circumspect.
One afternoon, Mother decided that they will go to the park.  Despite Yasmine’s glowering, she buys a balloon for each of them and whispers a song to her daughter as they walk.  Mother laughs as she coaxes a smile from Yasmine.  Then a truck pulls up and men in black turbans jump out.  They beat Mother with sticks, calling her “the daughter of America,” and punishing her because she is out in public without a man.
When the beating is over and the men are gone, Yasmine manages to get her mother to hospital, but there is no female doctor to examine her and male doctors dare not because the Taliban target anyone who does not conform to their views of appropriate behaviour.  Mother is sent home with some pain pills to heal as best she can.
After her mother’s attack, an official from the university advises Baba that his course on World Religions has drawn complaints, and suggests that he take a leave of absence.  Yasmine’s father decides that they will go to live in her grandfather’s house in Bazaar-E-Panjwayi, in Kandahar Province.  There he will work on his book and Mother will heal from her injuries.
Fourteen-year-old Tamanna lives with her Mor and her Uncle Zaman in the town of Bazaar-E-Panjwayi.  Her mother, a widow, earns a living by baking bread in the tandoor oven built in the middle of the courtyard of her house.  Tamanna sells that bread to Rahim Khan, the local kebab-seller.  Uncle Zaman is a drug addict and a lazy, vicious man.  Though the house belongs to Mor, he acts as if he is the lord and master.  He attacks Mor when she tries to offer him some advice, and kicks Tamanna when she fly to protect her mother, fracturing her hip.  Since then, the girl has struggled to walk.

One morning Uncle orders Tamanna to go to the house of a wealthy and important man recently come from Heret and sell bread to him.  He tells her to charge that man double the regular price.  Tamanna has caught a glimpse of the wealthy man and his family when they arrived in Bazaar-E-Panjwayi.  She recalls that her eyes met those of a girl about her own age and that that girl waved.  She pulls the bell cord at the blue door made of tin and holds out the naan to the old woman who opens it.  The women snatches the bread and orders her to return the following day.  Before the door closes, Tamanna catches a glimpse of Yasmine who asks her to visit.
The following day, Yasmine’s father answers the door when Tamanna brings the bread.  He invites her to enter the house where the girls get acquainted.  Yasmine shows her around the house, and introduces Tamanna to her mother.  When Yasmine’s father offers her a job and Uncle Zaman agrees to the arrangement, Tamanna is happy to think that she will spend her days in this house.  Tamanna and the old housekeeper assume that she will do housework and help in the kitchen, but Yasmine’s father has other ideas; Tamanna will be a friend and companion to his daughter.
So begins a magical time in Tamanna’s young life.  Together with Yasmine, she listens to Baba as he reads the poems of famous Afghani poets and tells classical stories from Afghanistan’s past.  She learns arithmetic and begins to read.  She also picks up some English words and helps Yasmine to become more proficient in Dari.
Finally, a school built by Westerners for boys and girls is opened.  The two girls are eager to attend, though Tamanna in particular worries when no female teacher arrives and the girls are invited to sit at the back of the boys’ classroom.  The school day has just begun when Yasmine and Tamanna hear the sound of trucks outside.  First comes a visit from a foreign woman representing the group of women in the West who have funded the building of the school.
Later on that first day the Taliban show up and berate the terrified girls while others laugh and joke with the boys.  Tamanna is horrified when the Taliban find Yasmine, who has hidden because she does not have a burka, and threaten to kill her.  When a young Talib aims his gun at her friend, Tamanna intervenes to save her life.  Yasmine escapes with a beating that leaves her unconscious for two days.  She awakens to find that her parents have decided that it is too dangerous for them to remain in Afghanistan.  As soon as she is better, the family will return to England.
Tamanna spends each day at Yasmine’s side, caring for her and collecting as many happy memories as she can before her friend leaves.  She does not tell Yasmine and her parents that she is to be married soon.  Her Uncle has sold her to an elderly man and intends to use her bride’s price to pay off his gambling debts.
When Yasmine’s father comes under suspicion of being a spy, he and Mother are shot.  Rescued by foreign soldiers, they are taken to a nearby army base and are evacuated to hospital in Kandahar City.  Discovering that the whole family carried British passports, the foreign troops make arrangements for Yasmine and her parents to be taken to England, but first the girl must return to their house in Bazaar-E-Panjwayi to find their papers.  She finds her friend Tamanna in the courtyard trying to light herself on fire.  She decides that she will take her friend to Kandahar City with her.
Betrayed by the Afghani driver hired to deliver her to the military base in Kandahar City, Yasmine and Tamanna find themselves alone in the middle of the Afghani countryside.  Fearful that the driver will report where he abandoned them to Tamanna’s uncle, the girls come up with a desperate plan to travel into the mountains that divide Afghanistan from Pakistan.  Carrying Yasmine’s parents’ papers and her father’s notes for his book, a blanket and a small quantity of food, the two girls set out on a dangerous journey deep into Taliban-held territory in hopes of reaching Pakistan and then making their way to England.  On that journey, they will grapple with severe weather, be greeted with kindness and suspicion, and narrowly avoid disaster before a terrible confrontation that will end both in sacrifice and betrayal.
Written by Sharon E. McKay, author of many award-winning novels for young adult, including War Brothers, and Charlie Wilcox, Thunder Over Kandahar is the tense and absorbing story of friendship between two young girls living in Afghanistan during the turbulent years following the defeat of the Taliban and of foreign occupation.  One is a privileged and well-educated English-Afghani girl, the daughter of loving parents, who is trying to accustom herself to life in an Afghani village; the other has lost both her father and her twin brother to the conflict, and lives with her mother under the control of a brutal uncle, but together they will become closer than sisters as they struggle to find a place for themselves in a very troubled corner of the world.
FernFolio Editor

Billy Green Saves the Day by Ben Guyatt

Billy Green Saves the Day
When the Americans invade Upper Canada in 1812, determined to take advantage of British preoccupation with the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and their belief that many in the British North American colony are sympathetic to the America cause, nineteen-year-old Billy Green is eager to join the militia.  The youngest son of Adam Green, a Loyalist who lost everything when he was forced to abandon his family home in New Jersey, Billy has grown up with his father’s stories of the Revolutionary War and longs to experience the adventure of battle.  However his father is adamant that the boy will remain safely at home and out of uniform.
Billy threatens to simply take off and enlist, but is reluctant to upset his father who made a promise to his dying wife to keep the boy safe from harm.  Billy’s situation is further complicated by his love for Sarah Foote, the daughter of an American sympathiser and Indian hater who has threatened to shoot the boy if he tries again to approach his daughter.  Sarah returns Billy’s feelings, but feels that she owes some loyalty to the man who has raised her.
After the fall of Fort George and the retreat of the British forces to Burlington Heights, the American forces led by Generals Windler and Chandler prepare to complete their rout of General Vincent’s men before marching onto Kingston and Lower Canada.  Billy Green spies the Americans forces near his home  at Stoney Creek and decides that he must warn the British that an attack is imminent.  Though his brother Levi and his brother-in-law Isaac has been told to keep the boy at home and out of trouble, the young men realise that Billy may be the only person capable of reaching General Vincent’s camp in time to avert disaster.  Armed with the American password and an expert knowledge of every tree, swamp and hill in the Stoney Creek area, Billy sets out for Burlington Heights.
Soon Billy finds himself in a British uniform staring a young American soldier in the face.  Though he plays an important role in helping the British troops, the local militia and the natives of Six Nations repel the American invasion, Billy Green discovers that his father was right all along – war is terrible and ought to be avoided by all sober and thinking men.
Ben Guyatt’s novel Billy Green Saves the Day follows the historical events of May and June 1813 when nineteen-year-old Billy Green warned the British of the presence of a massive American force at Stoney Creek and then acted as a scout for the British forces as they moved against the Americans in a pre-emptive night attack.  Guyatt does a good job of presenting the points-of-view of both the British and American commanders, as well as those of native leaders, Loyalists and American sympathisers.  Billy Green Saves the Day captures the excitement and uncertainty of this pivotal period in Canadian history through the eyes of a young man who ends up paying a high price for his moment in uniform.
FernFolio Editor

Wounded by Eric Walters

For the past eight months, fifteen-year-old Marcus Campbell has been engaged in a lot of magical thinking, those small games you play to convince yourself that everything is going to be okay.  He is careful to wind up his father’s wristwatch every morning, enough that it will run for another 24 hours, but not so much that the gears get jammed, because part of him feels that, as long as the watch ticks, so will his father’s heart.  He checks to make sure that his younger sister, Megan, crosses off another day on the calendar, one less until their father comes home.  He tries hard to do the right thing by helping his mother, who has admitted that the past year has been the hardest of her life, with the house and with Megan, determined not to get God mad at his family “when [they] really needed Him on [their] side right now.”
Marcus’ father is in Afghanistan, serving with the Canadian military.  Though he has served other tours of duty, this is his first in a war zone.  Since his father is in the Special Forces, Marcus knows he is spending a lot of time “outside the wire,” in the countryside around Kandahar travelling along roads that are regularly bombed by the Taliban and taking part in military operations that put him in constant danger.
Though he calls and emails frequently when he is on the base in Kandahar, Marcus’ father has not been in touch with his family for over two weeks, and tensions are mounting back in the ramshackle house on Vimy Ridge Avenue.  Megan might start off in her own bed, but ends up every night sleeping with her mother, her cheek pushed up against the pillow she has painted with her father’s face and sprayed with her father’s cologne.  The little girl is suffering night terrors, and refuses to allow anybody to celebrate her birthday until her father is home.  Marcus’ mother is smoking again, and puts in long hours compulsively cleaning the house.
Marcus spends his days at the high school off the base, trying to keep his mind off worrying about his father, even if that means it wanders all too frequently to thoughts of Courtney O’Hearn, a fellow army brat who seems as taken with Marcus as he is with her.  Many evenings and weekends he looks after his little sister, reluctant to trouble his mother to get a babysitter, so he can’t go to the school dance with Courtney.  He’s grown 3 inches and put on 20 pounds since his father left, and feels he has to be the man of the house until he returns.  Marcus compulsively checks his email for messages from his dad, the time in Kandahar on the clock he’s put up in the kitchen, and the news for any updates from Afghanistan.
He is surfing one night from station to station when he catches a glimpse of somebody in a military uniform standing in front of the Canadian flag.  Before he processes a word, he knows it’s going to mean bad news for some military family.  There will be a knock at the door, and the Base Commander and Padre will standing there with the news that someone’s parent, spouse, child won’t be coming home alive.  Marcus and his mother spend the night in fear of that knock on the door, their hearts pounding every time the phone rings.  He starts to invent new forms of magical thinking; what if his father were among the wounded?  Might he then come home sooner?  Wouldn’t the physical and mental pain of wounds be easier to handle than this ongoing anguish of fear and uncertainty?
At school on the following day, Marcus is called out of class to go the office, and his mind races, terrified of the possibilities.  He can barely get himself to his feet and out of the classroom door, yet his non-military classmates are ribbing him about getting into trouble.  Only Courtney understands the dreadful fears that have gripped his mind.  When he discovers that he’s simply been called into the Guidance Office to be handed some forms, he nearly explodes in anger and relief.  However, on his trip back to class, Marcus catches sight of the Base Commander and Padre getting out of a car in the school parking lot, he starts to do the math; how many students live on the base, how many of them have parents in Afghanistan, what are the odds that the knock will come on his classroom door?
Written by Eric Walters, Wounded is the story of what happens to a teenaged boy and his family when his military father is sent to serve a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.  With his mother and younger sister, fifteen-year-old Marcus experiences a tumult of pride and fear and grief and guilt and joy, and the reader will experience it alongside of him.  An excellent companion to Shattered.
FernFolio Editor