Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
Unfortunately, what will likely be Monica Hughes’s last book does not
attain her usual high standard. The fantasy’s theme, bullying in
schools, is most relevant today, but the execution of the plot,
especially its conclusion, does not quite ring true.
Right from the beginning of the school year in her new high school,
15-year-old Andrea Austin has been tormented by “the Six,” a female
gang led by angry Crystal Newton and her sycophant lieutenant, Sabrina
Collins. Andrea lives with her divorced, emotionally cold and
controlling father, who contributes to Andrea’s estrangement by
requiring her to dress in old-fashioned ways. One day, while escaping
her tormentors, Andrea hides in a shop. Sophia, its mysterious owner,
gives her what appears to be a small case with an inlaid labyrinth and
tells Andrea that her finding the way to the maze’s centre will cause
her to discover who she really is. Later, when Andrea is physically
attacked by the Six, Crystal and Sabrina discover the maze and
disappear. From Sophia, Andrea learns that the pair of girls are trapped
by the maze in another dimension and that she must go into the maze to
rescue them. The remaining events in the book are recounted in
alternating chapters by the three girls, principally Andrea and Crystal.
This approach effectively allows readers to see more deeply into each
character and to not just accept others’ judgments of that person.
Unfortunately, the self-knowledge that each of the three girls achieves
through the trials in the maze comes too quickly and too easily to be
entirely believable. Recommended with reservations.