After Sylvia

by Alan Cumyn
ISBN: 0888996128

Post Your Opinion
A Review of: After Sylvia
by Antony Di Nardo

Packaged as a sequel to the award-winning The Secret Life of Owen Skye, Alan Cumyn's new book for children, After Sylvia, is likewise a daily parade of mishaps, unfortunate events and those house-bound adventures of boyhood that befall Owen Skye. The crystal radio set catches fire, he masters the art of one-handed egg cracking by, well, breaking a lot of eggs, and with the help of his two brothers he accidentally crashes an old boat into the side of his father's station wagon. He's funny, but not because he wants to be; Owen has that sad clown aura about him. However, he can shake it off when he's after something. And, as emphasized by the double meaning of the book's title, he's after Sylvia-the same Sylvia with whom he fell in love in the first book, but who has since moved away.
Owen Skye is of indeterminate age. I'd give him nine or ten. He celebrates a birthday at the end of the book, but the thirty-eight candles on the cake do little to reveal his age. He's in elementary school, in a portable classroom (we know that for sure), and on the first day of the school year Owen's greatest concern is mastering the multiplication code that he believes is annually revised by ruthless, unionized teachers. From that first day on to when he eventually becomes class president, a position he earns because of his loyalty and steadfastness, we encounter a boy who is trying to make sense of his romp through childhood. Owen is inquisitive, thoughtful, sensitive and, most of all, in love.
Owen Skye pines for Sylvia Tull. She and her parents have moved to the county town of Elgin, miles away from where Owen lives and goes to school. They were classmates once and she made Owen blush and fall over his feet. When she left, he gave her a copper ring as a sign of his affection for her, hoping that she would never forget him. Now, whenever he thinks of Sylvia he is disarmed. At first, he wonders if he'll ever make it through the school year without having her next to him in class. Later he fears that his memory of her is fading. He even begins to confuse Sylvia's face with that of his teacher's.
Owen, candid and sincere in a way only a ten-year-old can be, has charmed Miss Glendon. She's a first-year teacher and very vulnerable. She nominates him for class president, but as a result of a hilarious coincidence whereby he is trumped by a classmate with a similar election platform, Owen settles for vice-president. An unlikely school trip to Japan is planned and the class embarks upon a fundraising campaign to sell tractor calendars, a failed undertaking. However, door-to-door sales bring Owen to Elgin, where he finally meets Sylvia again. Spring approaches and Owen invites her to his birthday party. His brothers' teasing about his feelings for Sylvia is unrelenting and he is forced to listen to his father's circumspect sermon on falling in love. "When you're young and have no ballast, love can hit you like a wave and knock you straight into tomorrow," he tells Owen. The party, of course, is not without its share of the misadventures and accidents that seem to follow Owen wherever he goes.
Alan Cumyn hits a high note in his portrayal of Owen. His language and style are confident, replete with a wonderful sense of humour that must come with being a big kid himself. He captures the essence of boyhood when a child is allowed to wander and wonder, to err and to learn with the gentlest of guidance. Owen Skye has a big heart, big enough to contain any reader. It's especially comforting to know that pre-teens will read this story and meet a character who is, without pandering to the popular consensus or kowtowing to adult authority, loveable, thoughtful, brave and wise. And they will recognize him as their peer.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us