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Johnny Kellock Died Today

by Hadley Dyer

Bored during a long hot summer, Rosalie Norman turns for amusement to art. Reading and creating comics and drawing portraits from the family photo album, the 12-year-old is so consumed by her creations that she leaves her pencils out on the floor one day, causing her Mama (whom she calls “the oldest mother in the world”) to fall and break her ankle.

The events of Johnny Kellock Died To-day, set in Halifax’s North End in 1959, are framed by the mother’s accident and the disappearance of the title character Johnny, Rosalie’s favourite cousin. Along with David, a neighbour boy hired to help out after Mama’s fall, Rosalie attempts to uncover the family secrets surrounding Johnny’s disappearance.

This is Hadley Dyer’s first young adult novel, but she is not new to the field, having previously edited, reviewed, and sold children’s books. While the novel’s plot is unremarkable, Rosalie’s voice is charmingly original. Her mother, father, aunt, and sister are refreshing characters, as is her friend David, affectionately known as the Gravedigger. Dyer’s skill is also revealed in the story’s minor details: the turquoise blue phone in her parents’ bedroom, her mother’s Noxzema, and the daily trips to pick up ground steak all become hilarious when seen through Rosalie’s eyes.

Dyer has created a full and lively narrative about a household where there are always people around, drinking tea, smoking, bickering, aggravating Mama, and teasing each other. While the dialogue is well written and humorous, the most heartfelt moments come when Rosalie is by herself, getting inside her drawings. Artistically minded teens will admire Rosalie’s creativity. Kids aged 10 to 14 will identify with her, and fans of Gayle Friesen’s novels and Barbara Haworth-Attard’s Irish Chain will appreciate the similarly strong family ties.