Showing posts with label Great Plains Teen Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Great Plains Teen Fiction. Show all posts

November 07, 2017

Game's End: Q & A with author Natasha Deen

Game's End
Written by Natasha Deen
Yellow Dog (formerly Great Plains Teen Fiction)
978-1-927855 -85-0
240 pp.
Ages 13+
November 2017

Yesterday I reviewed Game's End, the third book in Natasha Deen's series that began with Guardian and Gatekeeper. Today I have the thrill of interviewing author Natasha Deen about her newest young adult paranormal mystery.


HK: In my review of Gatekeeper, I called you the “princess of YA paranormal murder mysteries” and I stand behind that moniker, though I know you can write other genres as well.  But, though there are wild supernatural elements to Game’s End, at its heart the story is a whodunit, a murder mystery to be solved.  Are you a fan of mystery books and if so, who are a few of your favourite authors?

ND:  First of all, thank you for those kinds words! That thrills me. ☺

I am a huge fan of mysteries. There’s just something—thrilling, fascinating, intriguing—about hunting and gathering puzzle pieces, and delving beneath the personalities to find the truth. (I think it’s a bit like real life, where you listen and talk to people, and search for the subtext of their actions and words, and puzzle out who they are versus who they (1) want you to think they are (2) who they are trying to be).

I come by my love of mystery via family genetics.  Some of my favourite memories are the weekend afternoons when everyone was taking a nap, except my mother and I, who drank tea, ate cookies, and watched PBS Masterpiece Theatre,  as well my family coming together during the weeknights to watch TV and guess the murderer in Murder She Wrote, Columbo, and Matlock.

When it comes to my favourite authors, there are too many to name, but my first mystery-author love has to be Agatha Christie. Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, and any of the Miss Marple mysteries are tops in my books (no pun intended).

HK: Your subplots do double-duty, adding depth to the mystery as well as being the source of red herrings to trick the reader into guessing the identity of the murderer and more.  How hard is it to craft subplots that have to lure readers into thinking the story is going one way and then take them completely off course?  

ND:  It definitely takes some doing, but it’s so much fun to play with readers, and I really enjoy it. It’s like hiding Easter eggs and I love trying to find the balance of hiding clues deep enough to trick readers, but still making it apparent, so when they go back, they can see the clues.

As a reader, I love that feeling of racing to guess the bad guy before the main character/detective reveals them. It’s so exciting when you have that “Aha! I knew I was right!” moment, but I also love the “Ahh! They got me, I didn’t see it coming!” But when I go back, I can see how they were setting up the clues.

Stories that drive me crazy are when the author has some off the page clue that only the detective is privy to, or some sudden plot twist that’s not actually a twist, it’s just a sharp turn/plot device—that’s cheating. Put the clues on the page and let’s see how it turns out.

HK: From Guardian to Gatekeeper and now Game’s End, you have kept Maggie honest, humble and very real, though she has supernatural powers.  How did you ensure that she stay this real when she obvious isn’t?

ND:  I think from Maggie’s perspective, she’s not special.  Everyone has powers and talents, hers just happens to be seeing the dead. It doesn’t make her any better than anyone else, and with a dad like Hank, I just couldn’t see her being raised any way but the way she shows up on the page.

Also, I come from a culture (Guyanese) that embraces the idea of the supernatural, so why would you freak out or act weird? That would be like acting strange when you see the sun, but the sun is always there.

It’s not that Maggie doesn’t understand her power is unusual, but since it’s part of her, it just is…one of my favourite shows is West Wing, and one of the things that struck me was that the characters are never over the top or shrill. Then I realized that what was unusual for me (i.e., another country threatening to launch weapons or impose sanctions) is an everyday event for them. If they were over-reactive to it, they’d exhaust themselves by the end of the day. So, I think it’s the same with Maggie. It’s her everyday. She’s always seeing ghosts, transitioning them, learning about the terrible, beautiful aspects of their life. I’d like to think that it gives her depth and an appreciation for all the ways life is special and unique.

HK: While you’d made Maggie a sympathetic character, there are many others who are totally reprehensible and yet very real in the abuse they inflict on others.  Did you find it emotionally draining to write about domestic abuse and self-righteousness and violence against those who are vulnerable?

ND:  The short answer is yes. There’s a lot of personal experiences that inform those narratives, both mine and people I care about, and it’s a hard place to go, a hard place to live in, BUT, as storytellers, it’s important for authors to take the pain of those moments to make sure the story we tell is true to life, and the characters are as real as they can be.

One of the things that I feel is my saving grace and helps me not to get mired in the pain/darkness is my characters rise above those circumstances, so the bad things in life aren’t there to weigh them down, but to lift them up. I hope it’s something my readers can trust about my work—that there’ll be intense moments and difficult scenes, but in the end there is some kind of positive resolution.

There are a lot of studies on the effects of reading on the brain, on the physiological changes that happen when we imagine, so it’s important for me that even if there isn’t always a Hollywood happy ending in a book, it ends on some kind of hopeful note.

If I can expand out the answer, then it’s worth noting in my personal philosophy, I believe we’re all storytellers, and that’s why sharing stories (with friends, in writing, with groups) is an important thing. The world is made better and stronger when we connect through our shared stories and experiences.

HK: While there is much fear associated with death and dying, the concept of an afterlife offers some prospect for good to come out of that fear.  Do you believe in a particular version of an afterlife?  If so, does this belief come from a spiritual background, personal experiences with a psychic medium, or something else entirely?

ND:  Asking a Guyanese person if they believe in ghosts is akin to asking them if they believe in the sky. ☺ The sky exists, it’s there whether you believe it or not. According to Guyanese philosophy, ghosts and the supernatural is just another level of existence. Your ancestors will visit you in your dreams, they can change the reality around you, so you must always be aware of unusual occurrences in the everyday (a butterfly showing up in a location butterflies aren’t known to appear, for example). It’s why you should always behave—no one wants a lecture from long-dead Auntie who shows up in your dreams.

As a kid of two nations, Canada and Guyana, it’s one of the things I had to reconcile. North American culture doesn’t embrace the supernatural in the same way as Guyanese. But I’m so proud of my heritage and the subtext of this belief, that love can be so strong, your family members so connected to you that even death can’t break that bond, and I love the lesson to pay attention to the world around you, to pay attention to the unusual things because something beautiful might be coming your way.

HK: Although I’ve never heard of them, the supernatural creatures called serengti seem familiar to me yet I can find no reference to them in the literature.  Are these creatures from any particular mythology or are they your own fantastical creation? 

ND:  I sketched out the series back in 2010, and I remember coming across a reference to an ancient creature that was female and…that’s all I remember. When I tried to find my notes, they were missing. I *feel* like I came up with the serengti term, but that it’s based off of mermaids, sirens, and my wondering about what the after-life of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid may have been like.

HK: I so enjoy your humour.  Even in a book that deals with death and the supernatural, I found myself laughing aloud at the banter between Maggie and Serge and Nell’s pluck.  How can you remain light and jovial in your writing when immersed in a story about murder and violence and dangerous situations?

ND:  I have to thank my family and my family history for that. When you grow up as a POC, your life is just different from the non-POC kids (I still remember being 9 years-old and telling a Caucasian girl in my class that I was creeped out by white pillows, and her not having a clue about why, and when I said, “Well, because of the KKK and the Aryan Nations,” she still looked confused. That was one of the many moments I realized my growing up and how I navigated the world wasn’t going to be like my classmates, and what the world offered me versus what it offered them was never going to be the same).

My family history is one of struggle and overcoming, of standing strong while terrible things happened, and letting the bad things pass. Part of the standing strong involved love, forgiveness, a lot of humour. There’s an unspoken code of conduct in my family. In a bad situation, find a way to laugh. If you can do that, you can find a way to overcome, you can find the light, and a way out of whatever darkness is encroaching on you.

From a story/character perspective, I wanted to give Maggie, Serge, Nell, and Craig a similar philosophy. Certainly from Maggie and Craig’s perspectives, they’ll have seen things they can’t unsee. Serge is now heading down that path, and for Nell, she doesn’t have the same abilities (or any supernatural powers) as her friends, so how does she navigate the stories she hears from them, and how does she step in to support? Humour seems like the perfect weapon.

HK: The ending of Game’s End leaves it open for the possibility of more books in the series.  Are you planning on continuing Maggie’s story?  Readers will definitely want to learn about the return of a key character. (I won’t spoil the ending for readers, though they should be prepared that, as you say, “Maybe there are no happy endings.  Maybe there are just endings, and it is up to us to make them happy.”; pg. 240)

ND:  I’m giggling because for writers, our stories are forever continued, and we’re always living with our characters. The Guardian trilogy wrapped some of the big issues facing Maggie—bullying, domestic violence, abuse, forgiveness, resilience—in a series of horror/mystery/suspense novels, and I feel as though I’ve told that portion of her story. Having said that, I’m definitely open to more of Maggie’s adventures.


Many thanks to Natasha Deen for answering my somewhat lengthy questions 
Marketing Director Mel Marginet at Great Plains for facilitating this interview.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

If you haven't read the whole series, time to get your own copies of Guardian, Gatekeeper and Game's End!

November 06, 2017

Game's End

Written by Natasha Deen
Yellow Dog, an imprint of Great Plains Publications
240 pp.
Ages 13+
November 2017

     “He’s not my real brother, we’re soul-bonded.”
     “If he’s not your brother, why do you call him that?” asked Zeke.
     “Because.” Serge wriggled into the spot between us. “It sounds better than ‘hi, meet Serge. We used to go to school together and he bullied me until I wanted to die. Luckily, he was the one who stopped breathing.  I helped him figure out that his so-called suicide was a murder, and then we discovered in this life we were both scripted to become guardians.  We watch over the dead and living, transition souls from this plane to the next, and make sure the bad spirits from hell stay there.’”
     “Yeah,” Zeke nodded. “I can see how that’s a mouthful.”
(pg. 25)

That's essentially the creation story of Maggie Johnson and Serge Popov though there is so much more to their story.  There's Maggie's supernatural boyfriend Craig who is a ferrier of the dead, and her extremely plucky (her word, not mine) and loyal best friend Nell, and her dad Hank and his girlfriend Nancy who is the sheriff.  They all "live"–some more than others–in Dead Falls, Alberta where Maggie has been involved, with some supernatural help, in exposing those responsible for the deaths of several people, sadly raising the ire of some local citizens who consider the teen "a death magnet" (pg. 159) who has ruined the reputations of the town and some people like Serge's father, Reverend Popov.  The vibe in the town is definitely off but there's something worse coming as foretold by The Voice–the disembodied voice that comes through radios and whom Maggie suspects is her mother–and it's coming for Maggie.  Craig believes it's as a power-seeking soul-eater, which appears and swallows up lost and wandering dead just as Maggie is trying to help the newly dead Zeke cross over with his little brother Homer.  If the soul-eater is the only threat is yet to be seen.

As Craig and Serge attempt to get more info from the other side about her mother, Maggie is being pulled into her own investigations.  She tries to learn more about her mother from Hank who reveals that she too had powers that were tearing her apart.  On top of that, Maggie is experiencing unusual out-of-body experiences that take her to different times and places to witness the rescue of children's souls by a serengti, a supernatural called Serena, who compassionately tries to spare them the trauma of their deaths.

Then a murder shatters Maggie's world, and she's on the trail, both of our world and a supernatural one, to find the killer and keep those she loves safe.

Game's End is the conclusion of Natasha Deen's Guardian trilogy that began with Guardian (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2014) and led to Gatekeeper (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2016), all stories that embed the reader in the worlds of the dead.  For the dead in Game's End those worlds includes both the good and the bad, those who attempt to ease the dead to the other side and those, both living and supernatural, who seek to harm for the sake of power.  The evil that kills and aims to destroy is palpable in Game's End and, except for those who attempt to harm the children Serena wishes to rescue, not always easily identifiable.  Like evil everywhere, it is masked with lies and smiles and facades of rational behaviour.  The only reassurance is that, whether they are the self-righteous or domestic abusers or murderers, justice, in this world and the next, will be levelled against them.  That's the reassuring message of Natasha Deen's paranormal mystery: revenge is not necessary because there's karma.

Even so, Natasha Deen makes Game's End a story about a typical teen who is trying to find her niche in the world.  What she has on her plate is a little different than most teens, balancing being a friend and daughter with battling evil on both sides of the death divide.  But it all reads so naturally because of Natasha Deen's characters and a healthy infusion of comic relief.  While Maggie may be playing "demonic whack-a-mole" (pg. 29) with some unfriendly entities, she's rolling her eyes at Serge's wisecracks and Nell's off-hand comments that always alleviate the tension.

“Oh, he’s cute,” said Nell.
“Calm down,” I said. “He’s dead.”
“I could make him feel alive again.”
(pg. 21)

I know it's bizarre to match Natasha Deen's intense plotting with her tongue-in-cheek humour but the two work so artfully together, one escalating the drama and the other cushioning it, that Game's End would be a very different entity without this curious pairing.

Game's End may be Book 3 in this series but it's far from game over for Natasha Deen.  And if you're a new reader to the Guardian series, you've got three books of robust plotting, clever characters and bright banter ahead of you. Enjoy!


Look for my in-depth interview with author Natasha Deen tomorrow.  She graciously answered some tough questions about her writing, her beliefs and plotting for Game's End and her whole Guardian series. 


April 17, 2017

Hannah and the Magic Eye

Written byTyler Enfield
Great Plains Teen Fiction
165 pp.
Ages 8-12
April 2017
…taking her on a tour through the last three-thousand years of Israel’s major religions–from Judaism, to Islam, and lastly to Christianity–all of them locked together by a shared history in this solitary, enchanted city and a magical ring once worn by its wisest king.” (pg. 135)
Think The Da Vinci Code for middle-graders and you have Edmonton author Tyler Enfield’s Hannah and the Magic Eye.  Entombed in archaeology, a secret society and secret codes, it's a thriller which takes place in Jerusalem, one of the oldest and historically richest cities of the world.

Twelve-year-old Hannah travels from her home in Brussels, Belgium to visit her famed archaeologist grandfather, Henri Dubuisson, in Jerusalem.  When she arrives and Henri is not there to meet her, she only has a cryptic note he’d sent her to guide her.  She discovers a secret online message from her Grandpa Henri about a treasure beyond her wildest dreams and a secret society called the Cancellarii in search of the same treasure. Convinced Henri has been kidnapped and attempting to avoid several nefarious characters who attempt to follow her and grab her, Hannah, with the help of a Palestinian boy who likens himself to George Clooney, uncovers an ancient journal by ancestor Julien Dubuisson.  Hannah and Clooney must decipher the seven illustrations within, using a camera and a lot of ingenuity about historic sites in Jerusalem and environs, if they are to decipher the mysterious treasure map and discover a treasure that once belonged to King Solomon and save her grandfather.

No stops for deep breaths on this adventure.  Tyler Enfield has plotted a story so intricate and action-packed that young readers won’t have time to take breaks to learn about the historic details woven into the story (though they will surely be googling King Solomon, the different quarters of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock after finishing the book).  Clever Hannah is like a young Indiana Jones with her loyal sidekick Clooney who gets her both into and out of trouble.  With Hannah’s code-breaking skills and historic knowledge along with Clooney’s familiarity with their exotic location, Hannah and the Magic Eye is a thrilling course of intrigue that captivates and captures, inviting young readers to travel with Hannah and Clooney on their adventure, even on camel back. And judging by the conclusion of Hannah and the Magic Eye, they have a subsequent treasure hunt in Cambodia with Hannah and Clooney assisting Henri, all courtesy of Tyler Enfield's elaborate plotting and savvy for telling an exciting middle-grade story.

June 09, 2016


by Natasha Deen
Great Plains Teen Fiction
232 pp.
Ages 13+
May 2016

Someone was pounding at the front door at 10:30 p.m., and common sense said not to answer.  Then again, I see the dead, live with a ghost, and was dating a supernatural being who transported souls.  Common sense may have been in my neighbourhood, but it wasn’t on any street I lived. (pg. 7)
Natasha Deen grabs readers and thrusts them into Gatekeeper with this opening, not unlike her opener to its prequel Guardian (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2014),  in which 17-year-old Maggie reveals her knack for seeing the dead and helps solve the murder of Serge Popov with whom she now has become a guardian to help the dead transition into the next world.  Along with supernatural boyfriend Craig, a ferrier of the dead, and her best friend Nell, as well as her caring father Hank and his girlfriend, Sheriff Nancy, who all know of her gift, Maggie has found herself at the centre of more than one mystery in their small town of Dead Falls.  And Gatekeeper places her in the role of sleuth and ghost-communicator once again.

That knocking at the door is the wealthy Mrs. Pierson, frantic over the disappearance of her and Dr. Paul Pierson’s six-year-old daughter, Rori, and looking for Sheriff Nancy.  Maggie, Serge and Craig with Rori’s babysistter Nell go to help in the search and help locate the little girl on the brink of death.  But after Serge uses his energy to get her heart beating, he and Maggie meet the newly-dead ghost of Kent Meagher, former all-around amazing Dead Falls student and current med student at the University of Alberta who is oblivious and confused about his death.  And this is the murder mystery at the heart of Gatekeeper.

But Gatekeeper is more than a whodunit because no one knows Kent is dead, not the least of which are his separated parents whose antagonistic relationship destroyed the family and left them financially ruined.  Kent’s concern for his mother is overwhelming and brings back a lot of memories for Serge about his own family dynamics, his mother and his death, but demonstrates the newly-developed empathy that makes Serge such a key and now likeable character.  By way of some careful research and snooping, Serge and Maggie discover that a lot of people are keeping secrets, including Kent, and that Kent’s determination to be a doctor may be at the heart of a series of mysteries, including his own death and rampant vandalism in Dead Falls.  And, of course, there’s the dead people that add a suprisingly humourous and horrifying combination of subplots to Natasha Deen’s story.  (Be prepared for a nasty legion of souls called The Family who cannot find peace and is looking for additional souls to ingest.)

Gatekeeper, like its predecessor, is completely an edge-of-your-seat read, though I found that I looked forward to the witty dialogue as much as the paranormal elements which Natasha Deen flawlessly embeds in her plot.  I’ve always thought Norah McClintock was the queen of YA crime fiction but I think Natasha Deen has developed into a princess of YA paranormal murder mysteries.  With her multifaceted plotlines and great, great characters who are neither perfect nor surreal (though they may be otherworldly), Natasha Deen has become one of my go-to YACanLit authors for spooky whodunits with a smidgen of romance.  Consider them the young adult equivalent of Scooby-Doo: fun sleuthing with the ever-helpful Maggie and Serge and the gang. Gatekeeper is one more mystery solved, and I look forward to more.

May 05, 2015

Forever Julia

by Jodi Carmichael
Great Plains Teen Fiction
262 pp.
Ages 14+
April, 2015

Julia Collins must feel like she's living her life from out-of-body. And with the life she has, I might want out too. Her much-adored dad has passed from cancer just 6 months ago, and her Mom is so grief-stricken that she can't even bear to speak of him.  They now live in a small two-bedroom flat above their bookstore and money is an issue, though Julia had never minds thrift-store shopping with her long-time best friend and creative fashionista, Annika, who understands about Julia's issues with depression and anxiety and watches out for her constantly.

But now Julia is going out with the obscenely wealthy Jeremy Thurston, a.k.a. the Third, jock and popularity icon, and he is pressuring her to have sex, though she has made it clear that she is not ready.  The gutsy Annika can’t stand Jeremy and makes it clear every time he pulls some stunt, like kicking Julia out of the ski chalet where they were supposed spend the night when she refuses his advances yet again.  Sadly, in her mind, Julia is convinced that she can have it all: the wonderful dating relationship with Jeremy who calls her “beautiful”; new friendships with the popular girls; a scholarship to USC for architecture; and the best friendship she has ever had.  Imagine thinking,
Maybe if I convince Annika to tone down her wardrobe, Jeremy would see how incredible she really is and then maybe everyone would get along. (pg. 105)
Sadly naïve, but probably not atypical for a teen who is trying to work everything out.

Then Grandma, who generally splits her time between Arizona and the cottage, arrives to stay–in Julia’s room–while being treated for breast cancer.  Now both Grandma and Mom are watching her and what’s going on around her, and they’re not always pleased by what they see.

It’s not surprising that Julia questions everything that she feels but what’s worse is that she never trusts her feelings to be legit or honest.  Whether that’s because of her anxiety or depression is irrelevant.  All that matters is that the life that was once warmed with Dad and Mom happily living in a modest home and with a reliable and loving BFF is now a life she doesn’t even recognize as her own.  Who is the girl who lets herself drink when she knows it’s verboten with the meds she’s on?  Who is the girl who kisses her boyfriend in public like there's no one else around?  Who is the girl who apologizes to a guy who thinks nothing of stranding her at a ski resort when she doesn’t want to have sex?  Jeremy may get a tattoo, even a temporary one, that reads “Forever Julia” but Julia can’t be forever when she doesn’t  know who she is, who she wants to be, or who she can be.

Jodi Carmichael gets inside of this Julia and gives her a true voice, albeit one mixed and confused with guilt, grief, envy, desire, and affection.  Julia definitely morphs over the course of Forever Julia though I suspect she hasn’t come into herself completely, yet. Forever is a long time to be someone, to love someone, to trust someone, to be friends. It may be possible but maybe not.  Not everything can be forever: not life, not love, not lust, not even family nor  friends.  And Jodi Carmichael makes sure that Julia accepts this, even if only temporarily, in Forever Julia.

December 02, 2014

Guest review: Morven and the Horse Clan

by Luanne Armstrong
Great Plains Teen Fiction
173 pp.
Ages 11-16

Morven and the Horse Clan, by Luanne Armstrong, is the account of young Morven, the girl whose independence and passion for animals set her apart from her people. Morven was raised as a member of her mother’s clan, but has never felt obligated to the chores and work required of most young women in her tribe. Instead, Morven relishes time alone, where only her beloved animals are company in the great wilderness.

As an incredible drought pushes her tribe deeper and deeper into the untamed Kazakhstan wilds, Morven continues to feel unaccepted by her people, until they make camp in a small mountain oasis, where she hopes to find refuge. There, she discovers a band of wild, frightened horses that are just as desperate to survive as her own people are. Gradually, Morven begins to tame the creatures, earning their trust and learning to understand their hidden ways. Though her people are at first skeptical, she soon brings them to understand the value in her newly-found friends, and slowly they begin to appreciate the horses in the way she has come to love them.

Not all people can accept the new creatures so easily, however. As Morven’s tribe travels farther into the dry wasteland they had once called home, they encounter new civilizations and cultures that are groping for survival as the land around them withers. While one is curious and hospitable, the other has adopted strange, possessive ways that are frightening for Morven’s people. It isn’t long before they, too, desire to have power over horses, but it is clear that their ambition is not only to survive, but to conquer. Morven is placed in a leadership role as this new, power-hungry civilization becomes more aggressive, and she is forced to make a decision that will determine the fate of her people: protect her horses, or protect her friends.

Morven and the Horse Clan is a unique and intriguing story, filled with turmoil and themes of isolation, survival, and ultimately, love. The transition Morven endures from a lone castoff to a respected leader truly gives this novel depth, and kept me reading for a conclusion. I enjoyed the element of battle that occurred within Morven, between her feelings, rather than between physical enemies, as it was a more unique read than a typical action novel. The depth and culture within this story have earned it, in my own opinion, seven stars out of ten, and I would recommend it to any vigorous reader that enjoys books full of symbolism and change.

Thank you to Luanne Armstrong for her wonderful book!

Niki F.

November 02, 2014


by Natasha Deen
Great Plains Teen Fiction
192 pp.
Ages 13+
October, 2014

Guardian is buried in death, haunted by ghosts and plagued by bullies, youthful and not.  But Natasha Deen guards against wallowing her readers in the sobriety of these elements and instead pens an intricate plot that lacks any predictability, even that which we expect with death.  

Seventeen-year-old Maggie Johnson lives with her father, the local undertaker, in Dead Falls, and she sees dead people.  Actually she sees those confused dead who need her help to let go of life.  Her dad knows about her "gift" and her best friend Nell knows about Maggie's "woo-woo" feelings, but the teen has enough strife with bully Serge Popov that she's definitely not going to let this little secret out.  Unfortunately, when a creepy radio poltergeist sends Maggie to a deserted old mill to find Serge's murdered body, she can't help but become involved, especially when she finds his ghost inexplicably tied to her, 
"...the one person he hated most in the world, and it struck me as funny. Hilarious. Karma was a bitch, but she has a dark sense of humour and I was laughing at the punchline." (pg. 51)
But, it's not until Maggie visits Serge's girlfriend, Amber, and learns the girl is thrilled with Serge's death, and that his parents, the Reverend and Mrs. Popov, plan to have his body cremated without a service, as though he'd never existed, that Maggie actually reveals to Serge that she can see and hear him.  Though relieved that he still has a voice with someone, even Deadhead as he calls her, Serge needs to know what happened if he is ever to move to the next world, wherever that may be.

Luckily Dead Falls is a small enough community that Maggie's innocent (?) sleuthing generally looks like nosiness and gossip. She learns much through her friends including her crush Craig MacGregor, the captain of the water polo team on which Serge played, as well as from her father's love interest, the sheriff Nancy Machio. But it's Serge's reactions and commentary with her visits to those who knew him best (like Amber, his parents, etc.) that elicit the most revealing of secrets, some which Serge is not ready to have exposed. And I did mention the threatening poltergeist that continues to send creepy messages to Maggie, right?
"Help Serge or be killed by the poltergeist. Help Serge and possibly be killed by his psychotic father. What a set of options." (pg. 196)
Guardian is at its heart a murder mystery, albeit a paranormal one, and a superb one at that. But it defines itself with its characters whose thoughts and actions are unpredictable, as are most of ours, and with their development as they learn new things about themselves and others.  Even for Serge, a truly nasty bully, there is hope. And Natasha Deen's writing is a blend of smart dialogue and brisk action that effortlessly takes the reader looking for the "who" who did it. She has a real knack for creating the right atmosphere for friendly discussions and creepy scenarios, as well as thoughtful moments and teen angst.  And Natasha Deen has a wit that seems to infuse her words (or rather those of her characters) taking the edge off frightening elements. Everything is believable (even the poltergeist and Serge).

I don't know what Natasha Deen has in store for Maggie after Guardian but there is a perfect set up here for a sequel, not to complete the story but to examine how Maggie's psychic nature and her relationship with Craig both develop, and I look forward to reading about both.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  

Consider watching the book trailer for Guardian that Natasha Deen posted in August (I've included it here) and taking a look at her website for more about the author and her writing.

May 26, 2014

Jamie's Got a Gun

Text by Gail Sidonie Sobat
Illustrated by Spyder Yardley-Jones
Great Plains Teen Fiction
224 pp.
Ages 12+
May 2014

Jamie's Got a Gun which he found during a dumpster dive and he's in a dangerous state of mind.  Jamie's got an abundance of anger and it's growing.  Dangerous combination.

His sources of rage? There's Hugh the Pugh (for pugilist i.e., boxer, former), stepdad and abusive drunk who regularly beats up seventeen-year-old Jamie and his hard-working mom, Molly, and never stops demanding that Jamie get a job, any job, though Mom is determined to keep Jamie in school and pursuing his drawing. There's Blade Attaman and his school thugs who torment Jamie physically and verbally, humiliating him on a regular basis.  There's his father who left when Jamie was 4 and now lives in Chicago with his new family and provides essentially no support so Mom has to work two jobs and settle for Hugh the Pugh who doesn't work because he's collecting a pittance for a WCB claim.  Even Molly's brother, their Uncle Mac, doesn't help her out much, though he spoils his sons rotten.  And, in their rough neighbourhood, Jamie watches as Tina, a classmate from elementary school, now works the street as a hooker, supporting a drug habit that her pimp Tony probably got her into. These injustices are overwhelming to Jamie.

Personally, Jamie's got his own issues, from his dyslexia to his lack of friends and no girlfriend (though he is crushing on Tatiana Oleshenko).
"Sometimes I wish the rain could come and wash away my pathetic life." (pg. 24)
Jamie's one bright light is Candy, his thirteen-year-old sister and his hero.  He'll do anything to protect her, and that gun might be just the thing he needs to accomplish that.
"But a gun has a loud voice. I'd finally be seen and heard with a gun.  People would take Jamie Kidding seriously.  At last." (pg. 63)
The coarse starkness of Jamie's world is reflected in his artwork, courtesy of Spyder Yardley-Jones, of jagged edges and bold angles. There is no softness in his world.  Yet, when he draws Candy as a Sailor Moon-like superhero, Candy Moon, his playful side can be seen.  And when he shares his drawings of Tatiana's shoes, eyes or lips, he's seeing more than what's on the surface.

Gail Sidonie Sobat's young adult books suggest that she's got the pulse of young people and knows how they think and feel.  Gravity Journal (Great Plains, 2008), Chance to Dance for You (Great Plains, 2011) and Not With a Bang (Magpie Books, 2012) are perfect examples of how she can get into their heads and voices.  By collaborating with Spyder Yardley-Jones, Gail Sidonie Sobat has added that graphic element that adds a thousand words but moderates the text length while enriching the story.  Words on a page are only powerful when read; words with accompanying black-and-white graphics are understood and endure.  In Jamie's Got a Gun, it couldn't have been anything but a graphic novel, with illustrations documenting his experiences and feelings, as Jamie decides what he's going to do with that gun.  But, as you'll understand when you read Jamie's Got a Gun, it's not all black and white.

April 18, 2014

Lockdown: Book Launch (Vancouver)


Maggie Bolitho 
at the launch of 

her young adult disaster/survival book

by Maggie Bolitho
Great Plains Teen Fiction
192 pp.
Ages 12+
Release June, 2014

 This Book Launch 

will take place on
May 2, 2014

7:30 p.m.

Lynn Valley Library
Vancouver, British Columbia


The following blurb comes from Great Plains Spring 2014 catalogue at
When a great earthquake rocks the Pacific Northwest, fifteen-year-old Rowan Morgan is hiking in a suburban forest. Tremors rip the coast from Oregon to Alaska and turn Rowan’s world upside down.  After her father is wounded and taken to the hospital, he orders Rowan and her brother to stay inside his earthquake-proof, survivalist home. While the electrified fences offer some protection, it isn’t long before mobs gather, desperate for some of the food and water rumoured to be held inside.
Rowan knows that if the hungry neighbours had any true idea of the riches in father’s cellar and water tanks, they wouldn’t be so easily sent away. Early one morning, Rowan leaves the compound and sets off in search of her father. She is turned away from the hospital and so goes to check on nearby friends where she finds a local gang has moved in. She escapes from them only to run into a stranger she met in the forest the day before.  Why is he following her and what does he want?

That certainly gets my interest up.  I suspect it will do the same for many a reluctant reader as well.  Earthquake, survivalists, mobs, suspense, maybe a romance? Seems to have it all. Enjoy the book launch!

April 09, 2014

Jamie's Got a Gun: Book Launch (Edmonton)


young adult author 
Gail Sidonie Sobat

and illustrator
Spyder Yardley-Jones

for the launch of their new graphic novel for young adults

Jamie's Got a Gun
Text by Gail Sidonie Sobat
Illustrated by Spyder Yardley-Jones
Great Plains Teen Fiction
224 pp.
Ages 12+
May 2014


May 22, 2014

at 7 p.m.


the Roxy Theatre
Edmonton, Alberta

# # # # # # # # # # # #

The media release from Great Plains Teen Fiction tells this about Jamie's Got a Gun:

Jamie Kidding finds a semi-automatic handgun in an inner city dumpster. An aspiring artist, Jamie initially resorts to his notebook to record the reality of his complicated life with his mother, his deadbeat stepfather and the bullies he faces daily at his high school. Gradually, the weapon takes over Jamie’s life and his imagination, tantalizing him with deadly solutions to his personal troubles. Seduced by a sense of power, one fateful day he takes the gun to school. 

November 27, 2013

The Fall

by Colleen Nelson
Great Plains Teen Fiction
192 pp.
Ages 13+

I know that many misquote the proverb about pride going before the fall* but I believe a more apt saying should note that there are a few trips before that fall.  And that during those trips, you could catch and right yourself before that ultimate, consequential fall.  Most people know this, even Ben Olniuk, Colleen Nelson's 15-year-old protagonist in The Fall.  In fact, Ben makes note of this several times, after being faced with small decisions that result in him tripping.  Sadly, he doesn't heed any of these subtle warnings and he's not even the one who has the fall.

Ben's life is pretty simple. He lives with his mom and rarely sees his negligent and self-absorbed dad. His best friend is Tessa and he lives for skateboarding, which he does very well.  A seemingly inconsequential interaction in which Ben conceals a bag of pot dropped by another student brings him to the attention of Cory Anderson and Taz and Luke Dumont, a trio that rules the school through bullying and intimidation.

Although Ben initially rejects invitations to join Cory, Taz and Luke in partying, Luke seems to like hanging with Ben.  With an abusive father, weak mother and twisted older brother, Luke must see Ben's simple life as ideal, and Ben can't seem to stop himself from continuing to interact with Luke, Cory and Taz.  This is Ben's emotional tripping.  Sadly, one of the trio really trips and falls, leaving him dead and Ben is rumoured to be the cause.

Even though Ben realizes that "If you lie with dogs, you get fleas" (pg. 34), he can't seem to stop himself from making choices that lead to disastrous ends.  But author Colleen Nelson takes the reader beyond Ben and his choices to reveal that everyone is capable of making poor choices regardless of their motivations.  Anger, fear, jealousy, grief and guilt, as well as love, respect, and appreciation, can prompt a wide variety of responses, good and bad, and it's only the nature of our experiences, supports and personalities that will steer those decisions.  Still, Colleen Nelson demonstrates that, except in the case of death, there are opportunities to catch oneself and make things right.  While that may sound like The Fall ties up all loose ends, it's not that pat.  Just as we may not always know what we'd do under certain circumstances, such as witnessing a death, the boys and other characters seem surprised by how they handle circumstances.  Some are true to form, while others reach beyond themselves and out to others.  It's the breadth of her characters and their ability to transform or evolve that takes The Fall from an intriguing plot to a psychological page-turner.

*From the Book of Proverbs 16:18, the quote is "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."

September 11, 2013

The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley

by Jan Andrews
Great Plains Teen Fiction
200 pp.
Ages 12-15

This year in January I had the pleasure of introducing Jan Andrews at the Ontario Library Association's SuperConference as winner of the 2012 Silver Birch Express Award for her book When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: the Tales of Ti-Jean (Groundwood, 2011), stories starring Quebec’s traditional folktale hero. I emphasized that Jan Andrews is foremost a storyteller, able to weave tales in text and spoken word for all audiences, sharing cultures and wisdom, entertaining and teaching. While her first foray into young adult fiction may not be what many would judge as a storyteller's story, The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley is very much a tale in that it teaches, it exposes, it shares, and it entertains. It opens one's eyes. Isn't that what every good story should do?

Kyle McGinley is a fifteen-year-old boy who, on the way to his latest foster home, makes a drastic decision that gives him a feeling of control, something he has lacked since his mother died and his abusive father abandoned him at age 8.
"I, Kyle McGinley, have given up on talk of any kind." (pg. 7)
The talk he gives up is the out-of-his-mouth kind, starting with his newest social worker and his new foster parents, Jill and Scott, consultants that work out of their rural home. But Kyle still does a lot of talking in his head with two significant voices that cohabit there: his father's bold and italicized abusive comments, and the helpful, encouraging italicized suggestions of a scientist he calls Ingen.

Strangely, on a large property with a barn, stream, trails, cattle, a deep pit, and a swamp of lifeless trees, Kyle admits to himself that he's "never been less frightened in my life." (pg. 66) That is, until Jill and Scott hear via the social worker that Kyle's dad has engaged a lawyer to help him reconnect with Kyle. That sends Kyle into a tailspin that has him twisting both with the memories of his father's abuse and with the chance to have a father in his life again. Jill and Scott seem to be pretty cool, letting him sleep out in the loft of the barn, making a space for himself, driving the tractor and then letting him care for a little crow that has been physically abused and abandoned too. But Kyle barely knows them and he's been been through enough types of parenting –abusive, negative, negligent, excessive– to anticipate their rejection of him. Sadly, Kyle doesn't recognize caring.

Like Kyle, the little crow whom he names Lady C is just an avian version of the teen: frightened, flightless by abuse, abandoned and speechless, though the thoughts are clearly there. His heart goes out to Lady C, bringing her into his loft and his life, engaging with her in ways that he cannot with others, yet. Jan Andrews draws on the parallels between Lady C and Kyle, and Kyle and Jill, using expressive dialogue (I know it seems strange considering Kyle doesn't speak aloud) to draw you into Kyle's head and heart. And the uncertainty about the issues with which Jill seems to be dealing and about Kyle's dad's potential for positive change will keep readers wondering and apprehensive and hopeful.

Jan Andrews gives Kyle a distinct voice that stirs and startles, never letting the reader completely understand how the boy thinks. Fortunately, without wrapping up the story with a predictably saccharine ending, Jan Andrews allows Kyle to find, in his own time, his voice, a home and himself.

April 13, 2013

The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley: Book Launch & Celebration (Ottawa)

Award-winning author

Jan Andrews

When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew:  The Tales of Ti-Jean (Groundwood, 2011)
The Auction (Groundwood, 2007)
Rude Stories (Tundra, 2007)
Dear Canada: Winter of Peril:  The Newfoundland Diary of Sophie Loveridge (Scholastic Canada, 2005)
The Very Last First Time (Groundwood, 1987)

celebrates the publication of her first young adult novel

The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley

Great Plains Teen Fiction
200 pp.
Ages 12-15
March 1, 2013

Join her on

Saturday May 4, 2013

at 2:00 p.m.

480 Westminister Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario

July 06, 2012

Cape Town

by Brenda Hammond
Great Plains Teen Fiction
326 pp.
Ages 14+

In 1989, Cape Town, South Africa is a place of life-changing dreams.  For Renee Pretorius, just 17, this big city, so different from her home on a sheep farm, holds the dream of becoming a ballerina with her attendance at the ballet school of the University of Cape Town (UCT).  But, for many of the millions of residents of Cape Town, their dream is for an end to apartheid, the laws enacted by the National Party (of the minority, Dutch-descendant Afrikaners) fifty years earlier, which had racially segregated the Blacks and Coloureds (a term for the mixed race of African, English and Malaysian) from the Whites. 

To keep her safe from the "dangerous left-wing students with their Marxist ideas" (pg. 12), Renee's family has found her residency at the Huis Marta hostel for Afrikaans meisies, White girls of Afrikaner heritage.  But, even ensconced at Huis Marta, Renee makes the acquaintance of several young people whose lives and backgrounds expose her to different perspectives of life in Cape Town.

A fellow hosteller Nicolette (Nic) Dupreez, a medical student, may be Afrikaner but she does not follow the strict expectations of Afrikaans meisies, regularly breaking rules at the hostel and enjoying a more contemporary lifestyle of jeans, dating and non-White interactions.  Whenever Renee is unfamiliar with the nuances of life in Cape Town, she often finds Nic to be a valuable, albeit less inhibited, resource and caring ally.

Dion October, a second year dance student and Coloured, is one of the first students at UCT to make Renee feel welcome, although her strict upbringing and fears of the Immorality Act cause her some trepidation about interacting with him and his family.  Though Dion and his family continue to suffer the consequences of apartheid (e.g., relocation, violence, restrictions), Dion is essentially apolitical, providing Renee with the perspective of the oppressed majority but without pressing her to abandon her family's politics.

However, it is Andy Miller, a fifth year architecture student at UCT, who has the greatest impact on Renee.  After Andy helps Renee with some research at the library where he works, and she recalls seeing him at a protest in the streets, their paths continue to cross.  When they begin dating, fiercely attracted to each other, Renee begins to wonder whether their differences are insurmountable, as Andy is English (and there is much animosity between the English and the Afrikaners), actively political in the anti-apartheid movement, and critical of the injustices perpetrated by the Afrikaner National Party.

As Andy and Renee's relationship becomes more serious and intimate, Renee finds herself questioning her family's politics and her Calvinist upbringing, deceiving her brother Etienne who works with military intelligence, and becoming both stronger and more vulnerable with her new-found freedom and knowledge.  Andy's mother, a member of the Black Sash (a white women's resistance group) astutely recognizes that, "Freedom always comes at the price of sacrifice." (pg. 289)

While Brenda Hammond leads the reader through the escalating strife marking the end of apartheid, Cape Town's narrative is never heavy-handed or brutally-worded.  It's a reality that is incidental for some and pivotal for others, and occasionally dragged from the periphery to the forefront, as happens for Renee.  But this metamorphosis is so gradual and hesitant here (with the occasional regression) that Renee becomes the embodiment of an eye-opening, guided from blindness to sight.  By tying that eye-opening with Renee's and Andy's powerful love, Cape Town persuasively takes a monumental issue and packages it in a story of undeniable passion.