Prairie Fire Review - Peacekeepers

Reviewed by: Donna Gamache

In Peacekeepers, by Alberta writer Dianne Linden, thirteen-year-old Nell Hopkins and her seven-year-old brother, Lester B., commonly called Mikey, have recently moved to Edmonton to stay with their Uncle Martin (their mom's brother), while their mother, a non-commissioned officer in the Canadian army, is working with the peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Nell is resentful of her mother's "desrting" them, and she hates her new school, James A. Wyndotte School to everyone else, but JAWS to Nell. So far she hasn't made any friends, and she is being picked on by a couple of older students, Shane and his girlfriend, Bonnie. Besides that, she must help look after Mikey, who is also upset at his mother's being away, and has spells when he is convinced she is dead. Though her mother e-mails them frequently, and telephones when she can, Nell hasn't forgiven her for going, and refuses to communicate with her. Not wanting to explain the school situation to her uncle, and feeling that the school officials are not doing enough, she seems isolated within her problems.

Gradually Nell begins to make friends at school, particularly Sam Hashi, a Moslem student with whom she takes several classes, and gradually Mikey, too, makes friends and becomes more self-reliant. But the harrassment at JAWS becomes worse and threatens to disturb Nell's home life and endanger both Nell and Mikey. Meanwhile the e-mails from her mother also become increasingly disturbing, as they describe the dangerous conditions among the Bosnian children. There is no chance that everything can work out perfectly, and fortunately the author doesn't try to make it so, but the ending is satisfying as the problems are partially resolved. School bullying is a theme that needs to be discussed, and a work of fiction is a good place to do it.

I enjoyed Peacekeepers but throughout the book I had a constant feeling that the author didn't quite have her characters' ages correct. Nell is thirteen and clever, but only in grade seven. Most grade seven students would be twelve, or even eleven in the first few months of the school year. Also, Nell seems more grown up than most grade seven students would be, though, perhaps, it is because she has had to be. (For instance, she is expected to take Mikey home over noon hour and prepare his lunch, then get him back to school on time.) I also felt that Shane and Bonnie would not have bothered picking on a grade seven pupil. Bonnie, especially, is a tough customer and I can't see her bothering with a grade seven "kid." I would have found the harassment more plausible if all three students had been in grade nine. 

Dianne Linden grew up in Colorado but now lives in Edmonton. She has previously published many stories and articles for adults, but this is her first book-length work of fiction.

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