4 March 2011

by J.L. Kiunga
Published by First Choice Books
Review by Jennifer Barrett
$16 ISBN 978-1-926747-18-7

Georgie Christmas has not had an easy life. In 15 short years, he has had to deal with his father’s suicide and the removal of his alcoholic mother from their home. It is not surprising then, that he struggles with low self-confidence, and becomes a target for bullies in small-town Saskatchewan. Jessica Kiunga’s Twelve follows Georgie Christmas as he tries to salvage the reputation of his family name in the face of gossip.

Members of a local “gang” made up of some of the town’s hockey players constantly follow Georgie and regularly beat him up. To make matters worse, his older brother moves out, leaving Georgie alone to look after their younger sister. It is only after all this defeat that there is a glimmer of hope, but it doesn’t come from where you might expect; it’s a mysterious invitation to an underground boxing gym.

Despite being terrified of his own shadow, Georgie accepts the invitation and squeaks his way into the gym. As he learns how to fight, his self-confidence improves, his life improves, and he learns that not everyone in town will judge him on the basis of his last name.

The entire mood of the book, which culminates in a street fight between Georgie and the leader of a gang, drifts in the same direction as Georgie’s self-esteem. Kiunga does an excellent job of conveying this mood shift as the novel progresses to its climax, with the biggest lesson being quite simple: never give up hope that your future will be brighter.

Twelve is a very strong first novel for Kindersley SK based journalist Jessica Kiunga. While some heavy issues are examined in Twelve, they are dealt with in an empathetic and age-appropriate way, making this a book that deserves to be part of middle school and high school curricula. It would be the perfect gift for your grade 5 – 10 readers, as well.


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