Globe and Mail Review - Fight for Justice

Globe and Mail
Reviewed by: Ramona Kiyoshk

In her first juvenile novel, Fight for Justice, Canadian public school teacher Lori Saigeon strives to create a relevant story that will not only engage her inner-city charges, but also tackle the troublesome problem of bullying. She writes about the things that are real to the age group: The terror of oral class presentations, peer pressure and chance encounters with cute crushes that leave you trembling and tongue-tied.

Justice Stoneyplain is 10 and lives with his mother and twin sister, Charity, in the town of Monarch City, somewhere in Western Canada. Justice struggles with his role as man of the house in a single-parent aboriginal family. On school mornings, their mother packs their lunches and reminds them to be good, before she hustles off to her job at the local health centre. Chores are routine on the weekends, and the twins pitch in. Allowances are paid. Candy bars and chips are Justice's favourites, although he knows he should be saving for a game system. Weekend outings include family trips to the neighbourhood swimming pool, where the twins meet friends and everyone has a great time. For Justice and his family, life is good -until Trey, a youngster from a troubled family and the leader of a small coterie of punks, begins to harass the twins and their friends.

One Saturday, when Justice is going to the neighbourhood Shop 'n' Go to spend his allowance, the gang stops him, calls him names and pushes him around. Justice worries for his sister, who will be coming to the store alone later. He also wonders what he did to make Trey want to hurt him.

One family event that Justice cherishes is the occasional visit to his grandparents on the reserve, which is a few hours drive in their mother's rickety old car. On those mornings, Justice bounds out of bed and gulps down his breakfast. It is Justice's chance to interact with his Mushum (grandfather), who teaches him hunting skills and talks to him about traditional first nations values, including respect and kindness. On one visit, Mushum takes Justice to visit a grumpy neighbour, Mr. Blackquill, who lives alone since his wife died. The old man does not welcome the visitors. Mushum persists, giving him a gift of bannock bread baked by Kokum (grandmother) and insisting on staying for coffee.The men finally enjoy friendly banter about the old days and share hearty laughs.

Later, Justice tells Mushum about Trey and the bullying. They talk about the futility of revenge. Mushum tells Justice that people who are angry are usually in pain. Justice thinks about this when he goes back to school and finds Trey as aggressive as ever. The threats and taunts cause Justice to fear for his safety. The twins' mother worries, but they are afraid to tell on Trey and the gang. Justice decides to talk to their mother and a bullying education assembly is called at school. That only causes Trey and his friends to increase their harassment. After school, Justice is knocked almost unconscious.

Finally, outside events intervene to give Justice a reprieve. Trey's family gets in trouble with the law, and the court places him in a temporary home away from the community. The little group can now relax. Justice will have time to work out how he will cope with Trey when the time comes again. The plot is laid out clearly and is just suspenseful enough to keep a youngster reading. The vocabulary is challenging, but will not require frequent discouraging dictionary checks. This is a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. Ramona Kiyoshk, of the Ojibway First Nation, is a freelance writer.

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