Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Publisher Review: The Blue Helmet

by William Bell. Reviewed for Random House. See here for more info on the title.

(a word about publisher reviews on kittenpie reads)

Lee is going down a bad path, largely raising himself in the absence of his late mother and hard-working single father, letting hatred and anger grow into a hard knot inside him, until he decides to join a local gang. The last stage of his initiation, though, goes terribly awry, and he ends up in the hands of a police officer who knows his father. A deal is worked out, and though Lee is none too thrilled, it is explained to him that he has run out of options.

In short, the deal is to get him into surroundings where he won't be tempted by the gang, will be put to some productive work, and will have more supervision. He will go to live with his aunt Reena and help her run her small cafe in New Toronto, a corner of Etobicoke, Ontario.

Reena takes a pretty hands-off approach, but gives him enough to do to keep him occupied, and lets him see her empathetic way with her customers, a mix of homeless morning visitors, college kids, and neighbourhood eccentrics. Eventually, she gets him a bike and sets up a delivery service that puts him in contact with some real characters, and he finds himself making friends, opening up a bit, and seeing people in a new way. He slips up now and then, but on the whole, he is making some progress, and even starts talking to his aunt about what is happening in his life a bit.

But the real leap occurs when tragedy and an unexpected gift come together. He puts off the discoveries that will follow for a bit, but eventually finds his way to a realization about how destructive the dark, violent corner of his soul really could be. In the end, he mends fences on all sides, finding a new way to repair the hurt and the anger that had been pushing him down the wrong path.

The book is nicely written, pulling you along through vignettes and small epiphanies one after another at a pace that moves quickly, yet doesn't feel too hurried. I did feel at times that it was all happening a little more easily, with less struggling on Lee's part, than I might have expected, perhaps even too easily, but on examining it, I got the gut feel that Lee was at heart a good kid who had fallen into bad circumstances, and that he had been caught early enough not to give over to the growing internal anger entirely.

On the whole, I think this book has plenty of appeal, and moves quickly enough to keep even less avid readers. I think it speaks to boys well, something of increasing concern as we notice how many boys stop reading, while not excluding a female audience. This is a nice balance, and could make it good for a book discussion title or a class read.

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