January 26, 2018

Blood on the Beach

Written by Sarah N. Harvey and Robin Stevenson
Orca Book Publishers
259 pp.
Ages 13+

When eight “at-risk” teens accompany three adult counsellors to a remote island off the BC coast to participate in the week-long INTRO (=In Nature to Renew Ourselves) program, they probably never imagined graver risks than those they had already endured.  But,  when one of the teens goes missing, and everyone starts pointing fingers and suspicions grow between island-mates, Blood on the Beach becomes a YA Survivor x Lord of the Flies story.
Today is a good day to bury bad habits, attitudes and relationships so you can give birth to a new you. (pg. 45)
It seems that those in authority–parents and the court system–believe that the four girls and four boys sent to INTRO need to “change” their ways.  There’s Alice, the daughter of a cop, who was tagged for underage drinking; a depressed Tara who seems fearful of life; the flirtatious Mandy whose risky behaviour has lead her to theft; the misleading Imogen whose vice is drugs; B & E proficient Jason; Caleb who assaulted his mother’s abusive partner; weed-dealer Chad; and Nick whose parents want him to not be gay.  Under the care of former cop Warren and his psychologist wife Claire, as well as newbie counsellor Rahim, the kids are brought together to discuss their feelings, do chores like cooking and cleaning, and clearing of brush for a trail. But when Tara disappears the second day on the island and the radio is damaged, most of the kids want answers and actively pursue them.  Everyone is on edge, but especially Alice who unearths clues to Caleb’s possible involvement and Caleb who realizes Alice and Imogen are treating him with distrust.  The situation is all the more tenuous because of Warren and Claire’s reluctance to contact authorities and get assistance.

Through the alternate voices of Alice and Caleb, the story of Tara’s disappearance and the program’s participants coming together to solve the mystery is revealed.  But Blood on the Beach moves from mystery to thriller when a death occurs and suspicions are ramped up.  Everyone is looking over their shoulders for the culprit, not knowing enough about anyone to feel safe.    

From reviews of Sarah N. Harvey and Robin Stevenson’s most recent books (Spirit Level and The World Without Us, respectively), we know that the two BC writers can pack a lot of plot punch and strong characterizations into their YA novels.  Together, they are powerful.  They have created a wild assortment of characters and exposed them to  a more tenuous situation than those from which they came.  I suspect the community that thought INTRO was a good idea might want to rethink the benefits of a program that doesn’t adhere to the bioethical maxim of “do no harm.”  Scarier still is the belief that the adults would know what they’re doing when it’s actually the kids who show the maturity and conscience to fully resolve the mystery and mitigate the threat.

Like the little paper boats the teens construct with messages of their pasts to release to the sea, these teens leave behind their pasts and demonstrate courage and resourcefulness to secure their present and even look forward to positive futures. 

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