Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge - Book Review

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation has been received. 

Angus Wolfe is a 12-year-old boy who has the luxury of a long summer sprawling on the horizon in front of him. He is a self-directed learner as well as a homeschooler who has learned the value of books, research, and hands-on experiences. So when he narrowly escapes being hurt by a falling tree that shakes loose a leather packet with mysterious Russian writing from the 1940s, he knows how to become fully engaged in an exciting search for the truth. Along the way, he meets a young girl who becomes a close friend and sleuthing assistant. Together, they solve the mystery -- but not without experiencing a roller coaster ride of emotions that result in some serious growing up. 

Set in the Washago area of Ontario, Canada, the novel revolves around discovering the truth behind some hazy facts about a few local people and events during the Second World War. Red herrings and cliff-hanger chapter endings propel the reader through a captivating story line. There are questionable characters, including a hookah-smoking recluse who shares his pipe with his pot-bellied pig and some less-than-clean-mouthed mechanics -- but it is clear that the author attempts to present realistic characters without directly exposing the reader to any profane words or actions. While innocence is never jeopardized, romance is introduced -- to the detriment of the story.

I read the book aloud to my 12-year-old son. On a number of occasions, he specifically asked if we could read it -- so I know he enjoyed it! However, he and I concurred about the romance element. When I was reading a passage in which Angus sheepishly comments that he had enjoyed thinking of his new friend, Amanda, as his girlfriend and she repeatedly assures him that she is "still" his girlfriend, my son interjected: "Oh, for the love of Pete! That's just weird! Someone else took over the ending of the story! It's just so wrong!" Then, when I paused after reading that Amanda ran back up on the porch to Angus after leaving to go home,  DS12 said, "No! Tell me she doesn't! Why do they have to go and ruin a good story with stupid romance?!" I had to agree with him -- the forced romantic relationship between two kids that could just be friends -- and far more appropriately so for their age -- spoiled the story for me to some extent. 

However, overall, we both enjoyed the story. We could relate to the main characters, and were drawn into the well-wrought mystery. Not every aspect was completely believable or worthy of our approval, but there was enough pleasure derived from our reading experience to hold us through to the end, and any mildly questionable content was a starting point for a good chat.

What books have you read aloud lately?

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