I just finished another good 'read' in my quest to become a more effective writer. Zack, by William Bell, is a well-written book which won the Mr. Christie Book Award in 1998.
The main character, Zack, has a personal story which is typical teenager: feelings of social isolation, disputes with parents, and struggles with his personal identity. Zack's mother is Black and his father is Jewish, although Zack's own skin colour reveals none of his white heritage. Zack and his family have moved away from the busy city and move to small town Fergus, Ontario.
Several mysteries are established early on; why does Zack's blues-singer mother have nothing to do with her family in Mississippi? What are those mysterious objects Zack digs up in a locked box in the back yard of their new home? How will Zack improve his high school marks enough to earn University acceptance?
The mysteries sort themselves out in a more-or-less believable way. Zack learns how to apply his mysterious archaeological find to a study of local history. His social problems are solved early on with a girlfriend, Jenn, and Zack undertakes a quest to find out more about his mother's side of the family.
There is always a difficulty in writing about history of Canada in that you limit your readership to Canadians, and therefore have less chance of getting published no matter how well-written your book is. William Bell's book reveals Canadian and American history in one of the many natural ways our countries are intertwined, working backwards from the history of a Black former slave and leading into his life in Canada.
This book is fast-paced and well crafted. The dialogue is believable, including the accent of the American deep south, which seems accurate to me, but what do I know?.
I would recommend this book to upper elementary or high school students.