April 03, 2013

Hannah and the Salish Sea

by Carol Anne Shaw
Ronsdale Press
200 pp.
Ages 10+

On a map showing the town of Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island, you couldn't imagine a more serene, contemplative setting, tucked into a bay across from Saltspring Island and surrounded by parkland.  But this Cowichan Bay, of Carol Anne Shaw's Hannah and the Salish Sea, has some dark goings-on.  All is not well in Cowichan Bay.

The sequel to Carol Anne Shaw's Hannah and the Spindle Whorl (Ronsdale, 2010), Hannah and the Salish Sea revisits Hannah Rae Anderson, fourteen now, who still has trouble convincing her best friend and maybe boyfriend Max Miller that she'd somehow connected with a young girl, Yisella, 150 years earlier,  after finding an old spindle whorl.  But two years later, she and Max have no trouble finding other concerns in present-day Cowichan Bay.  While on a hike, they find dumped garbage bags of horticultural materials, including burned out extension cords.  At night, Hannah who lives on a houseboat spots some mysterious activity around the old rusty tuna boat, Orca I.  And Jack, the raven that has adopted Hannah, is bringing her odd gifts of a cigar butt, an eagle talon, a sliver of abalone, and such.  Then, when a bald eagle dies after hitting the power lines and its body disappears, Hannah and Max are sure they've seen more evidence of the rumoured poachers.

Meanwhile, rebellious teen Izzy Tate who is part Cowichan is shipped off from Saltspring Island to stay with her mom's friend, Ramona in Cowichan Bay, and work at her Salish Sea Studio where she knits sweaters and such in the Cowichan tradition.  Though resentful of this move, Izzy loves drawing, bird-watching and kayaking and quickly adopts an eagle's nest with two eaglets (who she names Oscar and Tango) and their father, Two-Step, ensuring their safety and keeping them fed with fish.

The two girls' stories are told in parallel veins, even for a time after they meet. And when Izzy and Hannah do meet, they see something shocking in each other:  Izzy sees the legendary red-haired white girl with a raven on her shoulder who came from the future, and Hannah sees the likeness of Yisella.  But their lives continue to follow independent paths, with Hannah trying to solve the mysteries of Jack's gifts, the Orca I, and the red 4x4 that seems to be associated with illicit activities, while Izzy tries to resolve issues with her mother, her heritage, and just do the right thing.

I'm so pleased to see that I can add Carol Anne Shaw's name to the list of youngCanLit authors who have successfully targeted the middle-grade book readers. With Hannah and the Salish Sea, Carol Anne Shaw provides young teen protagonists with contexts for their own parent and family issues, first attractions, peer pressures, jealousies, trust, and reactivity while learning to be themselves, not what others want them to be.  Just as in life, some things work, some don't; sometimes they're wrong, sometimes they convince others of their rightness. But, these are journeys they must endure, time-travel not excluded, to solve the mysteries within and without.  Within the framework of a gloriously natural setting, a First Nations history, and contemporary environmental issues, Hannah and the Salish Sea is sure to draw new readership from those who don't want to relive too much angst in their books.

n.b. A third book, Hannah and the Wild Woods is planned, taking the teens to Haida Gwaii and dealing with the detritus from the horrific tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.

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