Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Defender

Defender

Graham McNamee
Fiction
For ages 14 and up
Random House, 2016   ISBN: 978-0553498950

Tyne has lived in the Zoo, a twenty-five story building in downtown Toronto, her whole life. It is the last of its kind, a run-down apartment complex that is neglected by the slum lord who owns it. Tyne’s father, like his father before him, is the building superintendent, and he does his best to keep the tenants as happy as he can, which is not easy considering the age of the building. These days his job is further complicated by the fact that road works in front of the building are shaking it so badly that pipes and the electrical systems are being damaged on a regular basis.

On the first day of her winter break, Tyne’s father asks her to help him deal with a broken pipe in the basement. Water is flooding the floor and he needs his daughter to clean up the water for him. Tyne reluctantly agrees to help out for just an hour and she heads downstairs. She turns on the pump in the flooded furnace room and notices that there are cracks in the wall that run into the old, no longer used, incinerator room. She goes to see how bad the damage is in that room and finds that there is a large crack in the old garbage chute. When she looks inside the crack she finds a body, the mummified remains of a girl whose poor face is “twisted in pain.”

Tyne runs to tell her father what she has seen, and he insists that she stays put while he goes to investigate. He is gone for a while, and when he comes back he tells her that he did not see anything, that she must have imagined the body. Perhaps the pain medication that she is taking because of her injured knee is making her see things that are not really there. When the two of them go to the incinerator room, Tyne sees that the body is gone and there are only two sets of footprints in the dust on the floor of the room; hers and her father’s.

Horrified that her father has lied to her and that he is hiding a dead body, Tyne tells her boyfriend, Stick, about what she saw. The two investigate the incinerator room and Stick, who is very thin, crawls into the space where the body was. Amongst the garbage at the bottom of the chute he finds a mummified finger. Now Stick and Tyne knows for sure that she wasn’t imagining anything. The body was there.

Tyne desperately wants to understand why her father moved the body, who the girl was, and what her father’s connection to the girl is. He seemed genuinely surprised when she first told him about the body, so maybe, just maybe, he is not the person who killed the girl.

Tyne decides to check the video footage from the two cameras that are mounted above the two entrances to the building. She noticed just a short while ago that her father came home from getting plumbing supplies with mud all over his boots. Where could a man get mud on his boots in the cemented-over city of Toronto? Using the video coverage she sees when her father came back to the building and then, going back further in time, she sees him leaving the building and he is carrying a heavy duffle bag. When Tyne sees this footage she becomes convinced that her father drove out of the city and buried the body.

Tyne and Stick check the GPS on her father’s truck, they figure out where he went, and then they borrow Stick’s foster sister’s car to go to the place Tyne’s father went to earlier in the day. They travel forty miles north, end up on a dirt road, and finally stop in the place where the truck, according to the GPS, was parked for about an hour. The teens follow Tyne’s father’s footprints and find the place where the earth was disturbed. When they dig there they find the body that Tyne saw in the wall.

Tyne cannot believe that her dad, the man who has been such a good father to her all these years, could possibly kill a girl. There has to be another explanation, and so she and Stick set about trying to find out who the deal girl was and what happened to her. Tyne never imagines that she is going to end up digging up all kinds of family secrets that she would rather not know about, secrets that are acutely painful and maybe even dangerous.

This wonderful book takes us into the world of a pair of teenagers whose lives are not easy or comfortable. Tyne is six foot six, and her ticket to a better future is to get a basketball scholarship so that she can get a college education. Being so tall is challenging, but luckily Tyne has Stick, her boyfriend who, though he has been a foster child for much of his life, has not become hardened by life. He is still sweet and kind, and he is devoted to his larger-than-normal girlfriend. Together they try to piece together the story of the dead girl in the wall, and in the process they learn a lot about each other.

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