Benji, a self-absorbed 13-year-old African-Canadian boy, senses a presence when he enters Piney Woods near his home in Buxton, Ontario. Meanwhile Red, an Irish-Canadian boy, is being raised by his grandmother. She hates people of African descent and especially African-Canadians. Red has an experience similar to Benji’s in the South Woods, miles away, near his hometown of Chatham, Ontario.
Benji and Red meet at a speech contest and become friends in spite of their differences. Eventually they encounter the presence they sensed in the woods. They learn that “madness is only one letter from sadness,” and that people are shaped, for good or for evil, by their circumstances.
This poignant, at times humorous juvenile novel vividly portrays the consequences of the Irish potato famine and explores how hateful, racist attitudes destroy a person’s life and ability to celebrate the common humanity of all races. Ages 8 and up. (Scholastic)