CM Magazine Review - Between Shadows

Reviewed by: Karen Rankin

Ari, 12, and his dad fly from Toronto to Vancouver shortly after the death of Ari’s grandfather, Gramps. In his will, Gramps left Ari his wilderness property. Ari loves the cabin and surrounding land. Dad has had no interest in it since Ari’s mother died in a car crash during their last visit there. Shortly after Dad and Ari arrive, they learn that Dad’s sister, Aunt Laurel, wants to sell the 160-acre property. According to Gramps’ will, if Dad and Aunt Laurel both decide to sell on behalf of under-age Ari, half of the proceeds will be divided between them. The other half will go into a trust fund for Ari when he’s older. Ari has to convince Dad and his aunt that they shouldn’t sell. Once Ari gets to know Tam – the girl on the bike in the above excerpt – he learns that she knew and liked Gramps; but, Tam calls Aunt Laurel the Road Hag because she drives like a maniac and has been hostile to the locals during the few weeks she’s lived in the cabin before Ari’s arrival. Tam shows Ari places on Gramps’ land, such as a lake with a beautiful beach. She also introduces him to other friends of Gramps. Ari becomes even more attached to the land and the people who knew and loved his grandfather. In the meantime, Aunt Laurel has convinced Ari’s father that they should sell the land. She has found a buyer – someone who wants to bulldoze Gramps’ cabin and build an upscale resort. But, with the help of his new friends, Ari manages to convince his father, and eventually his aunt, not only to hold onto the land but to try living there.

      Ari’s sense of longing for his grandfather and a life on the land he has inherited are well shown throughout the novel. However, many of his other feelings seem to lack a layer of expression that could have made them convincing, relying instead on the repetition of two or three words, such as “left, right” in the top excerpt. Tam is a brave and outgoing advocate for Gramps and everything he believed in, such as sharing one’s swimming hole with neighbours. Dad is convincingly sketched as someone emerging from a daze of loss and longing. Aunt Laurel, a hair dresser, is portrayed as a largely one-dimensional – ie: insensitive – antagonist until near the end of the story. Between Shadows has some sparkling moments such as when Ari is briefly lost in the woods, when he goes skinny dipping and gets caught by Tam and her little brother, and when the prospective buyer comes to get Dad and Aunt Laurel to sign the agreement of sale. However, the story seems to get bogged down by details that are either irrelevant or leave the reader wondering but are not developed. For instance, there is no further mention of Ari’s problem with bullies, as per the above excerpt, and Tam’s mother is “away planting trees.” Ari asks where Gramps is buried; but, when he learns that Gramps’ ashes are under Dad’s bed waiting to be scattered, the topic is dropped. The author’s love of the country life, slow-cooking, and all things natural, is palpable. However, Ari is 12 so readers of this book are likely to be younger. Observations such as the following feel as though they are for much older readers:

Eggs Benedict à la Justin comes with all the extra bacon I can eat, fresh fruit, crispy potatoes and trout with slices of hot, buttery morel. I all but lick the pattern off my plate.

Recommended.

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