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Rebellion: A Novel of Upper Canada

by Marianne Brandis

Fourteen-year-old Adam Wheeler arrives in Toronto in the autumn of 1837 with his uncle’s family. Still smarting from his mother’s recent death and his father’s and stepmother’s apparent eagerness to be rid of him, Adam must now contend with Uncle Ted’s wild dreams of easy wealth in Upper Canada. Adam soon quarrels with his uncle and finds a job in a paper mill in Todmorden, just across the Don River from Toronto. Here he begins to make a life for himself, but soon hears about William Lyon Mackenzie’s brewing rebellion. Against his will, Adam is drawn into the conflict both by his employer, who supplies paper to Mackenzie, and by the involvement of Uncle Ted in the rebel force. The death of his cousin Ella forces a tense and dangerous trip to the rebel camp in search of Uncle Ted, and Adam manages to persuade Uncle Ted to leave the rebellion behind for his family’s sake. By the end of the story, Adam has become an apprentice at the mill and has forged a new life for himself.

This is a compelling historical novel about one youth’s search for identity and belonging in a new land. Brandis weaves Adam’s story into the background of history by having him befriend real characters such as the unconventional de Grassi sisters, who were spies for the government side during the rebellion. The details of daily life in the 1830s are brought to life with subtlety and skill, as is the tension and excitement of the rebellion itself. Adam emerges as a well-developed character with his own complex motivations and desires.

Nevertheless, the story is often slow moving, and we are halfway through the book before the actual rebellion begins. This, combined with the book’s adult appearance, is more likely to turn teenage readers off than draw them in. That’s a shame, because this is a well-written novel about an exciting slice of Canada’s history.