Margaret Buffie,
The Watcher
(Kids Can, 2000)

Emma Sweeny, 15, has always felt like the odd one out in her family, compelled to watch over her parents and fragile younger sister, Summer. Emma's mother has moved them all to the farm she inherited from Emma's grandfather and is now communing with bees, and Emma's environmental artist father is building a replica of a stone henge in a cow pasture. With Summer ill most of the time, it's no wonder that Emma feels as if her mission is to mind them all.

Then a neighbor asks Emma to be a companion to his bedridden father. She doesn't want to go, but her mother talks her into it. Poppy, the old man, is stranger than she expects, and the board game called fidchell that he teaches her is stranger still.

Suddenly, Emma discovers an ability to cross over into another world where she finds out that there is a much more serious game being played, with Summer as a prize. Determined not to be a playing piece in someone else's game, Emma strikes up an uneasy alliance with Tom Krift, a taciturn classmate who seems to know something about what is going on, as the two worlds come together with a crash in a startling finish.

Buffie has a reputation for taut, suspenseful and original young adult literature, and The Watcher upholds her reputation well. The plot is tightly woven and fast paced, with a novel, fresh use of folk elements worked into an original story. The characters are hopelessly, endearingly human, even the reserved and protective Emma who moves from frustrated denial to acceptance and understanding.

For a thoughtful and fresh young adult novel, watch out for The Watcher.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 20 August 2001

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