Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review of Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Sedgwick, Marcus. Revolver. Roaring Brook Press, 2010.

The corpse of 14-year-old Sig's father Einar, enigmatic and secretive in death, lies on the table. Sig's stepmother and sister have gone to town to get help. And then a dangerous man named Wolff shows up, demanding that Sig tell him where Einar has hidden a cache of gold supposedly stolen ten years ago. When Sig's pretty sister Anna returns home without her stepmother or anyone else, she too is threatened with death - and other horrors as well.

Wolff has a revolver that he keeps trained on Sig and Anna. But Sig and Anna have a revolver, as well. If they can just get to it, they will come a little closer to evening the odds.

This short and intense story takes place in Nome, Alaska in 1899 and in Giron 100 miles above the Arctic circle in 1910, places so cold and hostile that it takes all one's resources and luck just to survive. To actually flourish is next to impossible. Why a man with a wife and two young children would choose to stay in this kind of intemperate and decided family-unfriendly environment is one of the mysteries of the story.

Whether it is 1899 and the very last ship of the season has left Nome, abandoning Einar, his sick wife, and two children behind to try to survive 7 months in a wild and completely isolated town where no one has enough food, or whether it is 1910 and Sig's whole world has shrunk down to one tiny cabin, one violent and desperate man, and two revolvers, this is a tale that induces stomach clenching stress and claustrophobia. Death is always patiently waiting right outside the door in the killing cold even if all is well indoors - and all is not well indoors. Almost every page crackles with tension and danger, if not outright violence.

Both Sig's father and his long-dead mother have had a profound impact on Sig's psyche, and both parents influence his actions in the end, as does a game Sig and his sister used to play. His father taught him the intricacies of the workings of Colt revolvers, while his mother taught him to turn the other cheek and, most of all, to have faith. Even Sig's intimate knowledge of the strange and snowy world he has lived in all his life plays a crucial role. The outcome of the stand-off is just right, although the epilogue, taking place in 1967, detracts a bit from the nail-biting suspense of everything that came before.

Highly recommended for ages 12 to 15.

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