April 30, 2014

Kill the fly!

Revenge on the Fly
by Sylvia McNicoll

Revenge on the Fly takes place in Hamilton in 1912. Young Irish immigrant Will Alton has just arrived in the city. When a fly-catching contest is announced, Will is determined to win. Since flies are believed to spread disease, Will sees the contest as a chance to avenge the deaths of his mother and baby sister.

The war on the fly naturally makes up most of the action, but I couldn't help but wish that Will had other hobbies. He does come up with some innovative ways to kill flies, though.

Will's also trying to outwit his cheating classmate Fred Leckie. Yet I felt that there wasn't enough conflict. McNicoll is a subtle writer; her characters tend to have more internal turmoil than their behaviour would let on. Will has a lot of anger, but he rarely expresses it overtly. Will and Fred only have one physical fight; their enmity is revealed in taunts and insults. The two girls, Ginny and Rebecca, who are both fond of Will, limit themselves to glaring at each other.

I also felt that the story could have been funnier. The overall tone is a serious one, which Will's fall into manure can't quite overcome. 

What I liked was Will's ethical conundrum - should he try to win at all costs? His inner debate is skillfully done. I also liked the character of Ginny. She's a complex girl with many facets that were particularly endearing. In fact, I wished that she had been the main character! She also has a lively, fly-catching dog named Finnigan.

Being a very critical reader (and an adult), I probably sound too picky, but middle reader audiences should be more accepting. They'll no doubt want to start catching flies, or train their dog to do it!

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