|________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006
Feeding at Nine.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2006.
187 pp., pbk., $17.95.
Short stories, Canadian (English).
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Shannon Ozirny.
Raven sees the world in another dimension. To him, Dolores and Margaret are creatures with flat faces. They walk on their hind legs only – like bear when he is angry – and are not to be trusted. He has tried to comprehend what cars are and has determined that they are huge, growling eggs capable of eating the flat faces and disgorging them at will. It also seems to him that the shiny eggs have trails, same as deer, but much larger, and they hunt along these paths. The eggs are not effective hunters but kill enough deer and other animals along their paths to make scavenging worthwhile. For some inexplicable reason, the eggs do not seem interested in eating what they kill. So Raven eats with other ravens, until the sharp-faces come – fox and coyote. Then Raven stands aside.
In his latest collection of short stories for young adults, R.P. MacIntyre presents everyday events with eloquence and transforms the mundane into the unexpected. He deals with themes of loss, retrospection, and hope with clarity and honesty. Unlike much of the material available for young adults, MacIntyre's work is relatively free of clichés and caricatures and will find a following with readers of both genders.
Feeding at Nine contains 14 short stories, most ranging between 10 and 12 pages. Older readers will certainly find the story lengths satisfying without feeling overburdened or bored. MacIntyre also includes a brief foreword, as well as an incredibly useful end piece entitled "Backstories," describing the various inspirations for the collection's content. While profanity and sexual content usually define a young adult work, MacIntyre only includes a small handful of so-called "objectionable phrases." In fact, "Blood and Camping" is the only story capable of raising any ultra-conservative eyebrows. The rest of the collection relies on skillful writing and interesting perspectives, rather than explicit content.
The various stories in Feeding at Nine seem to defy classification as much of the content is extremely subtle and dependent on interpretation; MacIntyre shows a skillful diversity in his work, making it difficult to pinpoint a single overarching theme of the collection. However, certain stories fit together nicely and could be read productively in clusters. "Pink Bike Black," "Anna's Flowers," and "Solo" all deal with very young protagonists, a point of view that teenage audiences will find refreshing. MacIntyre rightly ignores the rule that the age of the readership must precisely match the age of the characters. Stories with subtle fairy tale and supernatural influences include "The Golden Heart," "The Witch's Daughters," "Tippy Tango," and "The Diamond Ring." Younger teenagers will especially enjoy this cluster as they may recognize familiar motifs from the ghost stories or folk tales they encountered as children. More traditional young adult fare is presented in "Colm," the slightly disturbing "Invisible to Dogs," "Blood and Camping" and the gently retrospective "Big Balloon." "Colm" presents a delightfully realistic teenage narrator, while "Big Balloon" describes young adult pregnancy without a hint of didacticism or clichéd angst.
One of the shining gems in Feeding at Nine is "The Diamond Ring." The story features four points of view (including one humorously articulate raven), and readers follow the trail of a "Genuine Zirconia Diamond" which is shoplifted, lost, and eventually ends up in a bird's nest. The ending is both satisfying and magical, and this story truly deserves to be anthologized again and again for student enjoyment.
Feeding at Nine belongs on every high school English teacher's bookshelf. Unlike many short story collections which center on clearly delineated themes or poorly drawn characters, MacIntyre's work lends itself wonderfully to classroom discussion and provoking essay topics. While the stories maintain a certain amount of ambiguity in plot, the images are crisp, and the characters are accessibly complex. His work will engage both enthusiastic students, as well as those who may dread coming to English class.
Shannon Ozirny is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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