The Edmonton Examiner Review - Peacekeepers

Reviewed by: Stuart Elson

Junior High can be a turbulent period, even at the best of times.

It is a time when many young boys and girls are flexing their independence, dealing with their maturing emotions, and taking important steps toward adulthood.

"I think junior high is a minefield for a lot of kids," says Edmonton author Dianne Linden.

In Peacekeepers, Linden's new book which was officially launched this month, the struggles of junior high become even more difficult for the main character Nellie Hopkins.

Not only is the Grade 7 student adjusting to living with her uncle while her single mom is on a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, but Nell is confronted by bullies at her new school - James A. Wyndotte - which she has contemptuously dubbed JAWS.

As the story unfolds, Nellie - who was named after Famous 5 activist Nellie McClung - has to come to grips with her own fears as well as her resentment of her mother's absence during this difficult time.

Often, the only avenue Nell has to communicate with her mom is through e-mail.

Peacekeepers is Linden's first book aimed at juvenile readers.

She hopes the book is more than just simply entertainment. By addressing issues such as bullying and the impact of separation on military families, she has included a lot of "teaching points" which could make the novel suitable for school use.

"We need good literature for kids. There's not enough of it," says Linden. "It's a pretty layered book and that's how I like to write."

Set in Edmonton which is home to many military families, Peacekeepers draws on Linden's 25 years experience as a teacher and education consultant. 

Although she spent most of her time working with elementary school students in Edmonton, four years were spent at the junior high level.

Linden says it was a real eye-opener to see how cruel some kids could be to their fellow students, picking on those who were a little different or alone.

"It was a real shock to me," says Linden, who is also concerned about increasing reports in society of violence between female students.

Her book dedication reads, "For kids who go to school lonely or frightened. You are braver than you know."

But, Linden had to find other sources to research peacekeeping in Bosnia, so she could accurately portray the character of Nell's mother. 

For that, Linden turned to one of her former elementary students, Leanne Karoles.

A 15-year reservist for the Canadian Armed Forces, Master Corporal Karoles has had two peacekeeping tours in Europe and Egypt.

Much of the experiences of Nell's mother are based on Karoles's peacekeeping stint in Bosnia from September 2000 to April 2001, which included a visit from the mayor of Edmonton and working with a Bosnian translator named Elvis.

"It was like listening to myself tell the stories all over again," says Karoles.

Karoles is currently helping chronicle the experiences of Canadian soldiers overseas through the defence department's Directorate of History and Heritage in the war diaries section.

She says peacekeeping missions can be tough on military personnel and their families, who are often separated for long periods of time and constantly have to be worried about the safety of their loved ones.

While Karoles could easily relate to Linden's portrayal of military family life, she says the issue of school bullying was also relevant.

Karoles remembers being called names in class by other students. She even had kids break into her locker, tear up some treasured pictures and pour syrup over her books.

"There was a time it was so bad, but I went to the principal."

Peacekeepers is published by Coteau Books and available at Greenwoods' Bookshoppe in Old Strathcona.

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