My first impression on receiving this book was that it was perhaps an amateur publication and seemed geared more towards a school-aged audience. I decided, however, against very literally judging a book by its cover and gave it its fair chance. How glad I was that I did. What I found was a fun little adventure story involving my favourite pastime, canoeing, and some very interesting characters, along with some intrigue I would never have expected.
The story follows an eleven-year-old boy, Tim, on a coming-of-age canoe trip guided by his seventeen-year-old brother Chuck, down the Saugeen River during an unspecified decade earlier this century. Along the way, the boys encounter everything from angry steers and bears to religious fanatics bent on a teaching the boys a lesson. They also meet some helpful farmers, pass through some beautiful countryside, and grow as men and as brothers. The novel is clearly aimed at a young adult audience, but the story can be enjoyed by anyone.
What struck me most about the story is that while the setting is a canoe trip, and there is certainly a lot of tripping-specific description, the heart of the story lies more in the adventures that the boys have together. This is the type of adventure that could have been set anywhere, but is enriched by being set on a river. The river even becomes a bit of a character in the end. You can make all the corny references you like about life being like a river, etc… but there are few journeys that can so quickly and easily transport you from a world of calm to one of danger and back again, or from one form of civilisation to complete wilderness and then on to a completely different culture.
The climax of the book comes in the form of a murder-mystery/ghost story in the last few chapters, once again proving that you can never predict what you will find around the next bend in the river. The story-within-a-story kept me enthralled, and here the author's storytelling capabilities really shone. Until this point the narrative had been very direct, even crisp, but the final adventure brought out the author's talent for weaving a believable, eerie tale, with some intriguing twists.
As the wife of a canoe-literature enthusiast, I am surrounded by canoe lore and culture in all of its written forms. I have even been known to pick up the odd "classic" now and again, and I certainly give my husband a good race to see who can get through the latest issue of Canoe & Kayak or Kanawa first. Unfortunately, all the paddling tomes around our place have spoiled me a little and I must caution others against stereotyping this book. If you expect a similar style of writing to Bill Mason or the McGuffins, you will he disappointed. Nor should you expect the technical aspects to reflect necessarily what you may be taught in a Paddle Canada course. But if you put your technical expectations aside, you will find a lovely little book that explores through the eyes of a young man what a few of us have already learned and the rest of us will learn over the rest of our lives. That life really is like a river, and that the adventures to be had around each turn are as much a part of that river as are the rocks and the water. So when you hang your literal paddles up for the season, pick up this book and enjoy a little literary paddle. It's likely different from your usual winter reading fare, but you can only re-read Path of The Paddle so many times. Right, honey?
Book Review By Lynne White, The Ripple [Paddle Manitoba, fall, 2006]
As the most recent past-copy editor for “The Paddler,” I occasionally had the opportunity to read books submitted to me for review. The most recent is “Canoe Trip”, by David Beasley, illustrated by Elizabeth Barrett Milner.
“Canoe Trip”, by David Beasley, is a children’s book that reminds me of a cross between “Huck Finn” and “Twin Peaks”. Like “Huck Finn”, the author uses a river trip as the thread that connects stories of the different adventures that eleven year old Tim and his older brother Chuck have while canoeing down the Saugeen River in Canada. Chuck is taking Tim on his first adventure, planning to run the entire river to Lake Huron, then shuttle back home via train.
Along the way they have to deal with Tim’s first attempts at whitewater, angry bovines, juvenile delinquents, Tim’s first love, a rogue religious cult and an almost-mystic encounter with wolves as well as lots of interesting folks. While all of this is going on, Tim and Chuck learn new levels of self-reliance, love and respect.
The writing is simple, on the level of kids Tim’s age, but is still interesting for adults. The story doesn’t say when the trip occurs, but to me it seems like it would have taken place a few decades ago, perhaps in the 1950’s or 1960’s. I can’t imagine two teenagers taking on a trip like this today. While most of the action takes place off the river, there is enough carnage to keep any canoeist interested in what’s going on. If you have kids interested in adventure, this will make a fine gift, and you’ll probably like it too.
Book Reviews: “Canoe Trip” Reviewed by Joe Slater
“Canoe Trip is an exciting story that will make readers want to get out on the river and do their own exploring.” - Deborah Ellis, Governor General Children’s Literature Award Winner