by Steve Vernon
Nimbus Publishing (2011)
When I read Haunted Harbours and Halifax Haunts, I thought it showed Steve Vernon's innate folkloristic abilities. Those were essentially nonfiction books, offering local legends from the Maritimes. This time around, Steve has crafted his own Maritime legend in the form of a middle-grade novel.
Roland MacTavish is a fourteen-year-old living Deeper Harbour, a slowly dying small town on the southern shores of Nova Scotia. His mother's the mayor, his father's the police cheif, and his grandfather Angus is his best friend. Yeah, the town's that small. But after some late night hijinks with his grandfather, and his self-described "punk-goth-freakazoid" friend Dulsie, Roland's mother tells him that she's resigning as mayor and moving to Ottawa--and taking Roland with her.
From that point on, Roland is determined to rejuvenate Deeper Harbour and convince his mother to stay, so he doesn't have to move. The plan? Invent a sea monster as a tourist attraction. What ensues is a rollicking read that captures the youthful exuberance and naivety that makes the best children's stories. Steve captures the voice of a desperate young teen resistant to being uprooted from everything he knows and loves.
All of the characters are distinct and likable and the 160 pages keep plot condensed to its purest elements. Roland's grandfather, Angus, was a particular treat to read. The guy was a hoot and kinda steals the show. The story is saturated in turns of phrase and figures of speech though, and feels a bit exaggerated at times. The story itself makes up for that, however, wrapping the reader up in an adventure that feels outlandish and believable at the same time.
Canada is full of quirky local legends, several of them involving sea creatures, and this one feels like it fits right in with the rest of them. A fun read for any kid--or kid at heart.