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Thomas A. MacDonald
Toronto, Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1994. 165pp, paper, ISBN 0-02-954252-9 (cloth) $14.95
ISBN 0-02-954255-3 (paper) $9.95. CIP

Reviewed by Janet McKinlay

Volume 22 Number 5
1994 October

It is Upper Canada in the late 1880s. When eleven-year-old Aaron's parents die of cholera, his great-aunt Morag and great-uncle Archie, rather than send him to an orphanage, reluctantly take him to live on their farm in the north. Aaron's mother had always said, "there were folks who were Christian by duty and folks who were Christian by love." Living in the emotionally sterile environment of his aunt and uncle's homestead, where only the basic necessities of food and shelter are provided, Aaron soon understands exactly what his mother had meant. But he finds acceptance at school both through the friendship of Sophie and her brother and through the encouragement of Mr. Nelson, the teacher, who appreciates Aaron's scholarly side. Unfortunately, he also becomes a favourite target of Big Josh Grossler, the school bully, who is constantly admonished by his father to emulate Aaron's love of learning.

The main focus of this story, however, is Aaron's relationship with Roland, a young wolf. Right from the moment of his arrival on the farm, Aaron is drawn to the fierce beauty and freedom of the wolves, which he views as "princes from another world." He mourns their slaughter when the local farmers go out one evening on a wolf kill. Weeks later, while wandering the local woods, Aaron rescues one lone cub from starvation, and they soon become inseparable. Secrecy becomes all-important, as Aaron knows Roland will also be killed if found.

Aaron spends as much time with Roland as he can. And, when his beloved newly found cousins invite him to come to live with them in Cobourg, he hesitates, torn between his love for his cousins and his love for Roland. Aunt Morag, however, jumps at the opportunity to get rid of Aaron and insists that he accept the invitation. While Aaron is walking alone to catch the train to Cobourg, tragedy strikes, and Aaron's life is saved only by the ultimate sacrifice that one creature can make for another.

There are many facets to Thomas MacDonald's novel. It is a historical novel of small-town and farm life in Upper Canada in the 1880s. It is an enchanting story of the strong bond between two lonely creatures, the boy and the wolf. It is also a story of child abuse and survival. Aaron survives the emotional abuse of his aunt and uncle through his love of learning and the friendships he creates with Sophie, with Mr. Nelson and particularly with Roland. Aaron's character is highlighted by and contrasted with the character of Big Josh, who succumbs to the physical and emotional abuse of his father by repeating the pattern of cruelty on others.

Thomas A. MacDonald, an up and coming young adult author, has written a fine first novel. He has built on his own experiences of living in the deep woods of Ontario, which lend authenticity to the setting and story-line. The relationship between the wolf and the boy is presented in a realistic fashion. The time period and the descriptions of the general harshness of life on a farm in the 1800s enhance the novel. The vocabulary is rich and the story flows logically. Both the strength of the main character and the theme will appeal to young people. Aaron's powerful story of emotional survival is compelling.

Highly recommended.

Grades 5 to 8 / Ages 10 to 13

Janet McKinlay is a teacher-librarian at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary in Vancouver, British Columbia

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