The third, highly flawed, book in Gina McMurchy-Barber’s Peggy Henderson
Adventure series moves the archaeologically themed action from land to sea. After touring the Vancouver Maritime Museum and meeting an enthusiastic young guide, 13-year-old Peggy, who helped on digs around the B.C. area in the first two novels, finds her interest piqued by underwater archaeology.
Conveniently, Peggy is introduced to a specialist in the field, who happens to be setting out on a search for a 200-year-old shipwreck. Peggy learns how to scuba dive and two weeks later sets out as part of the team searching for the Intrepid, a downed trading vessel that sank in 1812.
McMurchy-Barber received a Governor General’s Award for teaching Canadian history. Her passion for the past is obvious in Bone Deep, but the book is overly didactic. Passages of exposition drag the narrative down and feel textbook-like, boring rather than informative. Worse, the characters are desperately lacking in modernity. Peggy (whose very name is a throwback to a bygone era) is full of early teen attitude, but her narrative voice often feels like it belongs to someone 50 years older. Supporting characters are also problematic. Peggy’s Great Aunt Beatrix, for example, would have to be 120 to pull off the preachy advice she dispenses to her young niece regarding her appearance, manners, attitude, and such devastatingly old-fashioned notions as how to set a table to impress your husband’s boss.
Most troubling, however, is the depiction of a Spanish-speaking scientist. Dr. Sanchez is surly and curt with Peggy, dismissing her as being a “leedle girl.” His area of specialty includes studying “ship worms,” which Peggy mishears as “sheep worms,” causing much laughter among the crew. Peggy mocks Sanchez’s accent repeatedly, and though he is in on the joke at the end, presenting such an attitude (in a book for children, no less) is still unacceptable. An outmoded “gee whiz” tone is bad enough, but there is no excuse for cultural insensitivity.