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Bat Summer

by Sarah Withrow

Bat Summer, the winner of Groundwood Books’ 20th Anniversary First Novel for Children Contest, introduces a gritty new voice to Canadian children’s literature. In her children’s novel debut, author Sarah Withrow presents an imaginatively tough and tender story.

Twelve-year-old Terence, facing a summer without his best friend, is at a loss. He has always followed Tom’s lead and is uncomfortable with his new autonomy. Terence questions his own instincts and often finds himself thinking, “What would Tom do?” What Tom would do becomes increasingly irrelevant as Terence falls into friendship with 13-year-old Lucy, a quirky, seemingly free-spirited girl who insists she is a bat. As his rapport with Lucy grows, Terence’s fascination with her challenges him to assert his own sense of self. When Lucy experiences a psychological crisis, Terence faces a crisis of his own. How long should he protect a friend when she may need protection from herself?

Bat Summer reveals poignantly how children’s needs can become lost in the shuffle when busy parents delegate parenting to younger family members. Set in Toronto, Bat Summer takes place largely in a neighbourhood park, alleyways, and a ravine. It’s a world of playground relationships, and Withrow, a journalism graduate, demonstrates a reporter’s ear for the name calling, swearing, and prepubescent banter that come with the territory.

Although it suffers slightly from too-obvious contrivance, Bat Summer is an intriguing first novel – strong on characterization and plot, and admirable for the issues it raises. As its title suggests, it’s a story about matters both dark and light and it will linger for some time in the minds of readers. Wisely, Withrow leaves readers post-reading room for thinking and wondering. Encouragingly, she hints at hope.