June 26, 2018

The Ruinous Sweep

Written by Tim Wynne-Jones
Candlewick Press
400 pp.
Ages 14+
June 2018

You're a traveler in a land that is part memory, part dream, and with all vestiges of the kind of pain that only the living can feel.  (pg. 127)

Donovan Turner, 17, is a reluctant traveler but one just the same. He is everywhere and nowhere.  He is running away from his sleazy dad Allen, with whom he's supposed to stay while mom Trish and boyfriend Scott are off camping in Algonquin Park. He is hitchhiking in the rain. He's hallucinating, he is disoriented and nothing seems real.  But it's far too real.

As the reader accompanies Donovan from one precarious situation to another, the teen's confusion is palpable. He worries that he has caused an accident that kills a man with a briefcase full of money, which Donovan takes. He finds his way to a farm where he hides the money and discovers his bruised and bloodied father drinking and playing cards with two rough-looking men. How could that be? Donovan can't figure out what he did, if he's guilty of anything for which he is accused and all he wants to do is find a way to connect with his girlfriend Beatrice.

Bee too is trying to figure out the story but she's starting at it from the side of Donovan's hospital bed. The story she hears from the police is that Donovan was a victim of a hit and run just outside his home, but they're also investigating the death of Donovan's dad. Bee doesn't believe that Donovan killed his dad but the few murmurings from Donovan, which she records in her journal, have her determined to protect him and learn the truth herself.

While Donovan is navigating new worlds, trying to understand his circumstances, wondering if he is dead or can make things right, Bee is looking for the answers the police will not pursue. Allen was a reprehensible person whose actions "had landed him in a country tattered around the edges and peopled by all manner of fallen comrades: addicts and losers and barstool prophets; the let-down, it-wasn't-my fault crowd" (pg. 93) and Donovan intended to stop seeing him. But would Donovan take his own baseball bat to his father?

Tim Wynne-Jones knows how to tell a great story.  He has won two Governor General's Awards for English-language Children's Literature (Some of the Kinder Planets, 1993, and The Maestro, 1995) and his last three novels have been short-listed for that same notable award. Though his middle-grade fiction is unsurpassed for its empathetic characters and depth of plotting, I believe his young adult suspense novels (check out my review of Blink & Caution), to which we can add The Ruinous Sweep, are unparallelled in the complexity of their mysteries and magnitude of their stories.  The Ruinous Sweep is a layered and woven story of so many dimensions that the reader can be forgiven the need to pause. While Bee's story line is essentially one of progression from learning of Donovan's accident and solving the mystery, with the occasional memory of their dating, Donovan's is complicated. His story is a tragic one that goes backwards and forwards and sideways. It's one of anger, shock, violence, running from and to, and connecting.  He's in limbo and looking for salvation. 

Readers may recognize references to Dante's Divine Comedy throughout The Ruinous Sweep from characters including Beatrice, the Pagans, and the Virgil-like Jilly, and other attributes such as the deadly sins of wrath and greed.  While these references to Dante's epic work provide additional scope to Tim Wynne-Jones's story, they are not everything. The Ruinous Sweep is, in its lyrical telling and intricate mystery, as daring as YA just as Dante's work is as epic poem.


Check back tomorrow for my interview with author Tim Wynne-Jones and an opportunity to win a free audio book edition of The Ruinous Sweep, read by Tim Wynne-Jones. This giveaway is open to Canadian and US residents.

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