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Ellen Fremedon, Volunteer

by Joan Givner

To the uninitiated, the title of the new Ellen Fremedon novel looks about as promising as an arrowroot biscuit gone soft on a hospital tray. However, those familiar with the first two books in Joan Givner’s series will find reassurance in the opening line, which shows that Ellen’s character still has bite: “I was in a very bad mood at the beginning of summer, and meeting Mr. Martin didn’t help.”

Mr. Martin is a cantankerous resident of Peacehaven, an old folks’ home where Ellen works as a summer volunteer. The old man latches onto Ellen, maintaining her interest despite his verbal barbs. Their odd friendship sets the other elements of the plot in motion. When Ellen hears that the provincial government is planning to close Peacehaven, she decides to protest at a community meeting, and the results of her activism are as mixed as they were in the first two books. Meanwhile, Ellen makes a new friend of her own age – Dimsie – whose mother disappeared years earlier. The publicity around Peacehaven doesn’t end up saving the facility, but it does bring about the surprising (and to an adult, fairly implausible) solution to the mystery of Dimsie’s mother.

The strongest quality of this book is its characterization of Ellen. Her imperfections – the constant library fines and ice cream addiction, for instance – make her likeable, while her more serious woes, such as her mother’s multiple sclerosis and her family’s poverty, give her depth. Some of the other characters seem pallid by comparison, like Ellen’s best friend Jenny, who’s about 13 but presents as an extremely decorous 70-year-old.

Fortunately, the narrative maintains its snap, thanks to the constant stirrings of the plot and the feistiness of its main character.


Reviewer: Bridget Donald

Publisher: Groundwood Books


Price: $9.95

Page Count: 184 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-88899-744-9

Released: March

Issue Date: 2007-1

Categories: Children and YA Fiction

Age Range: 9-12