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Last Chance for Paris

by Sylvia McNicoll

Fourteen-year-old Zanna is banished to the Alberta icefields with her father and twin brother, while her mother sips espresso on the Champs-Elysées. All because of one tiny unauthorized tattoo on Zanna’s ankle. It’s so unfair! Her cruel fate is made worse by extreme limits on phone and email use.

Thus begins the latest novel from Sylvia McNicoll, an accomplished Ontario writer whose previous books have won Silver Birch Children’s Choice and Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice awards. Her latest protagonist is a bright, smart-mouthed kid, the sole vegetarian in a remote community of carnivores. Despite her head-tossing and door-slamming, Zanna knows when her city-girl airs make her look dumb or obnoxious, especially in the eyes of Tyler, the blue-eyed forest ranger.

McNicoll unfolds her story at breakneck pace. A week into the summer, Zanna has nearly drowned, been threatened by grizzlies, sprained her ankle, lost one boyfriend, and found another. Plus, her twin brother is missing in the wild. A challenging subplot explores whether a young wolf cub should be returned to its natural habitat; McNicoll is clearly a canine lover, and her people-focused puppy is one of the book’s most vivid characters.

Only the ending is psychologically discordant. Zanna has already concluded that her high-flying mother is self-centred, but now she learns that her father is apparently not the ethical scientist he claims to be. Zanna’s new romance, however, sweeps aside that insight, leaving a niggling loose end that will no doubt get tied up in the sequel.