“Rapid reads” convey deep meaning

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June 17, 2013

By John Wilson
Orca Book Publishers, 119 pages,  $9.95

Him Standing
By Richard Wagamese
Raven Books, 129 pages, $9.95

Reviewed by Marcie Gray

Ever start a book and then put it down for so long that when you pick it up again, you have to reread the beginning? Ever take a book out of the library and discover it’s due back before you’ve flipped it open? I’m guilty on both counts. I’ve read gorgeous books in fits and starts, all the while knowing that I’m missing out – that the book is not getting the attention it deserves, that  its beauty is betrayed by the cracking of its cadence.

What can I say? Life interferes with good books. Orca Book Publishers recognizes this and offers rewarding alternatives for those pressed for time, and for those pressed for interest. Reluctant readers, young people reading below their grade level, newcomers who are learning English as a second language. You can hand them a classic and hope it enthrals, but 300 pages and a dictionary later, odds are you’ve lost them. Better, perhaps, to offer a quick and entertaining book that will help the reader gain confidence and go on to the next novel.

Two books released this spring hit that mark. Stolen, written by John Wilson, is part of the “Orca Currents” series, aimed at middle-school students falling behind in their reading skills. Him Standing, by Richard Wagamese, belongs to the “Rapid Reads” series, targeting an adult audience.  It’s published by Raven Books, which is an imprint of Orca.

In Stolen, a Canadian boy named Sam arrives on the southern coast of Australia. He’s pulled into a mystery involving shipwrecks and stolen artifacts and international art thieves. The pace is quick and the language simple. This is a plot-driven, character-light whodunit where young protagonists use logic to solve the mystery and become the heroes of the hour. (Or perhaps two hours–that’s about how long it took to read this book.) This is not criticism; rather, I’d expect this book to engage young readers as they follow Sam’s escapades over the course of just two days.

Orca, based in Victoria, shows it’s treating these “rapid reads” seriously by turning to authors with solid track records. Wilson, a Lantzville writer, has written nearly 40 books, both fiction and non-fiction, many of them for young people. Wagamese, the author of Him Standing, has a remarkable resume as an award-winning author and journalist. He’s Ojibway, originally from Northwestern Ontario, now living in Kamloops.

Wagamese’s culture is front and centre in his story of a young man with a magic of his own. Lucas Smoke carves images in wood. His grandfather taught him, but Lucas is a natural. He faces danger when a stranger spots his talent and hires Lucas to carve a spirit mask. Wagamese dips into deep issues such as balance in the universe and the power of fear, and wraps them up into a mystical story that clips along and clocks in at 129 pages. An impressive feat. Also impressive is the voice he creates for Lucas; the young man’s internal dialogue feels genuine throughout.

Stolen and Him Standing are great at what they are meant to do–engage readers and keep them hooked to the (quickly nearing) end. They accomplish another task too–they make you want to read more. Next on my reading list: other works by Wilson and Wagamese.

Marcie Gray’s resume includes years spent reporting and producing for CBC Radio. Today she’s working on her own novel of youth fiction.

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