The Game

by Teresa Toten
196 pages,
ISBN: 0889952329

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Children's Books
by Julie Glazier

When Danielle Webster, better known as Dani, is admitted to Riverwood Psychiatric Clinic for an overdose of drugs and alcohol, she can only remember pieces of her past. She recalls retreating with her younger sister Kelly into the world of "the game" which they played to escape the abusive perfectionism of their father. The game is an elaborate ritual that the sisters play in the ravine near their house. Through it they enter into a magic world of good and evil and leave all thoughts of their parents behind. Dani has suffered from her father's violence for years and her life's purpose is to protect Kelly from the same.

At the clinic Dani's doctor is a caring, intelligent and likeable figure. One of the nurses and an orderly provide, along with the doctor, positive models for the teenagers and act as a balance for the horrific adults that these young people have had to endure. Two other patients, Kevin and Scratch, befriend Dani. Both have severe problems but have been there for some time and are on their way to recovery. Tension arises when they decide to run away as neither can risk returning home. They want Dani to join them. She is deeply torn between the world of her friends and the desire to rekindle a bond with her mother whom she has always resented for not protecting her.

The strength of this novel lies in the characterization of the teenagers. Dani, Scratch and Kevin come alive through humour and incidents that are powerful and moving. For the first time in her life Dani has real friends and the terror of her past lessens as they support her. Not all of the portraits of the teenagers are positive. One of the boys, Jared, is truly scary and the group therapy sessions have an edge that is gripping and believable.

Unfortunately the portrayal of Dani's mother is weak. For a woman who did nothing while her husband physically abused her daughter, she goes through a rapid transformation that is unconvincing. If the author had relied on the teenagers to carry the story and written the mother as a peripheral figure the ending would have been stronger. However, young adult readers will find the relationships between the three friends and the gradual unfolding of the mystery of Dani's secret world compelling reading.

Julie Glazier is a Teacher-Librarian and English teacher for The Toronto District School Board and a compulsive reader of YA fiction.


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