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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review

MEAN TIDE by Sam North,
Lulu Press, 2008 - 234 pp, paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4092-0354-4
Reviewed by Charlie Dickinson

The hero of Sam North's young adult novel MEAN TIDE is Oliver, a survivor of much at his tender age of twelve years, and a likable lad coming to terms with a quite odd and mysterious adult world about him. From the opening pages of MEAN TIDE, the reader is transported into Oliver's world with compelling and salient sensory detail.

One of North's storytelling talents is he gets the basics of Oliver's world right. For example, what is Oliver's strongest yearning? Is it that he'd be reunited with his father who's gone missing in Africa? Or that his mother, institutionally lost in the world of the insane, will return? No, it's about his hair, or lack thereof. He survived a brain tumor, endured chemotherapy, and now wants nothing more than to stop being bald as an egg. He simply yearns for the return of the first fuzz. He doesn't want to wear hats the rest of his life. Seemingly a vain yearning, true, but just talk to any juvenile who's had a bout with cancer and see what they really want out of life.

Having survived cancer and bereft of both parents, Oliver makes his way to the southeast reaches of Greater London in Greenwich by the River Thames with his beloved cat Flop. Together, the two take up residence with a cast of offbeat characters, headed by Oliver's Grandma Otis.

Mysterious goings-on abound: seances with the dead, criminal activity, a dead body or two washed up on the river tide. Through all the adventures, Oliver soldiers on with curiosity, finding perhaps a "chosen" family for the one he earlier lost.

One of author North's narrative skills as we follow Oliver's youthful exploits is a seamless switching of point of view. Without a bobble, we go from Oliver's mind into that of Grandma Otis and back to Oliver's (or even into cat Flop's!). The POV switches makes these unusual characters all the more credible.

As a young adult novel, MEAN TIDE has several strengths. Oliver is thrown in a new world, pluckily managing to make it his, while at the same time partaking some of its rewards, comfort, and mystery (as discovering his psychic talents). The blossoming of a simpatico friendship with the older but fragile Aura teaches him about coping with illness in life. A love interest in mysterious Justine. The continuing companionship of his indefatigable cat Flop.

At novel's end, Oliver faces an upbeat future--even without hoped-for fuzz on his bald pate. He's earned confidence from sorting out a lot among his new "family" and keen appreciation for the adventure becoming a young adult can be. The reader closes Oliver's story, knowing the hero has made up for a lot of personal loss in its first pages and sees Oliver as stronger for his unstinting effort. Though a young adult novel, MEAN TIDE is recommended for narrative sophistication that will appeal to readers of all ages.

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© Charlie Dickinson Jan 2009
rufusfelix at
Charile lives in 'Twilight' country and is currently writing a novel

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