Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Fall" by Colin McAdam & "This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall" by Gordon Korman, reviewed by Jennifer Smith Gray

Fall by Colin McAdam, Hamish Hamilton Canada, $32.00 (358 pages)
This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman, Scholastic Canada, $6.99 (115 pages)

In some ways, Colin McAdam’s novel Fall struck me as a grownup version of Gordon Korman’s popular children’s novel, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall. Both stories are about roommates in a boys’ dormitory at a Canadian boarding school. Both involve pranks, mischief, girls, and police.

Korman gives a light-hearted look inside the world of private schools and adolescence that kids 9 to 12 will enjoy, and after they laugh their way through This Can’t Be Happening, there is a whole series of Macdonald Hall books for your kids to enjoy,

In contrast, McAdam is writing challenging prose for adult readers, and his book unveils a layered and sophisticated account of residence school life.

This 2009 Giller Prize finalist is about Julius, a popular athlete, and Noel, a quiet loner, paired as roommates for their last year at St. Ebury School, outside of Ottawa. Fallon Fitzgerald DeStindt – Fall – is the girl who draws the boys together and simultaneously widens the divide between them.

The story is told by both boys, with alternating narrative that effectively reveals each one’s character. Julius’s simple stream-of-consciousness telling as the events unfold reveals the immature and predictable child he was at the time. Noel’s descriptive version is written from the perspective and understanding of adulthood. The grownup Noel portrays himself as having been thoughtful, peculiar, and misunderstood.

Realistic teenage dialog between the two and convincing, awkward interactions with supporting characters—shared friends Chuck and Ant, and especially Fall—enable readers to witness both the growth and the devolution of the boys.

The tale begins as a coming of age story, but quickly reveals itself to be a perverse love story and a clever mystery, both fully enticing. The characters’ portraits, vividly painted through their shared narration, are laden with revelations that engage, horrify, and ultimately satisfy the reader.

Jennifer Smith Gray is a graduate of the University of Waterloo's English Rhetoric and Professional Writing program, and has extensive business and technical writing and editing experience. In recent years, she has been nurturing her inner creative writer, working on short stories, personal essays, and a memoir.  Born and raised in Northern Ontario, Jennifer transplanted herself to the big city 15 years ago and is inspired by all of the personal and professional writing-development opportunities in and around Toronto. When she's not putting pen to paper, Jennifer enjoys exploring her East York neighbourhood with her husband and kids.

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Notes to writers:  Hamish Hamilton Canada is part of Penguin Canada and does not accept manuscripts for consideration except through agents.  More about Hamish Hamilton hereScholastic Canada publishes a limited number of children's books.  Currently, they say they're not accepting submissions, but if you have a manuscript that fits their publishing program, I might send it to them anyway.  More about Scholastic Canada here.

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