The Other Side, the new middle-grade novel from Toronto writer (and frequent Q&Q contributor) Heather Camlot, begins with 12-year-old Liam discovering the body of a girl on the lakeshore near his grandfather’s house in Prince Edward County. The victim, 17-year-old high school soccer player Calynn, is lying a short distance from a perilous set of stairs. Her death might be an accident, but Liam begins to obsess over what happened.
While the nature of the tragedy sparks this behaviour, it is just one item crowding Liam’s mind. His beloved grandfather is in palliative care, suffering from pancreatic cancer. On one of Liam’s visits, his opa tells him about his experiences as a child soldier in the German army during the Second World War. This revelation, along with a belief that Calynn’s death may be connected to Opa’s history, rocks Liam’s understanding of the world and his family – and pushes him deeper and deeper into a state of almost clinical distraction.
With a special tryout for an elite soccer academy fewer than two months away, Liam’s life begins to crumble around him. His coach, parents, and friends urge him to remain focused, but it is his opa’s attention to the past that forms the central lesson for Liam and the reader. It is only through knowing and understanding our history – good and bad – that we may build our future.
The Other Side captures the impact of trauma and uncertainty on its young protagonist. It is largely an interior novel – things happen, but events are filtered through Liam’s fragmented consciousness – with long passages of exposition. As a result, it can be slow going and may frustrate younger readers (especially if they’re not soccer aficionados). Nonetheless, The Other Side is a valuable book, with much to offer in its examination of responsibility, community, family, and the intersection of history with the present.