Twelve year -old Emaline is riding with her father as he discs their fields, when she sees her beloved dog Prince running dangerously close to the blades. In trying to stop him, she falls off the tractor and her leg is sliced almost completely through. In anger, her father shoots Prince and leaves home. She is rushed to hospital where a series of operations and treatments save her limb, although it is permanently shortened and she walks with a limp.

The fields need seeding. In desperation Emmy’s mother appeals to the local “mental hospital,” and Angus, the crazy man, arrives to help. Emmy is warned to stay clear of him, and neighbours gawk, but she begins to notice his special qualities. He quietly sows the fields with blue flax and yellow mustard rather than the unsellable wheat. He helps fit her with a built up shoe, and he is steadfast though frightened when falsely accused of theft. Yet some neighbours, like Harry Record, cannot adapt to Angus and believe that the family is taking risks. Just as Angus is the object of ridicule, Emmy is mercilessly teased for her deformity by Record’s son, Joey.

One night in a snowstorm both Joey and Angus disappear. Angus has been driven out of town and dumped by Harry Record, but he finds Joey lost in the storm and brings him home. Record refuses to accept his guilt and pleads not guilty. As the book ends Angus is more accepted, but a trial is looming, in which Emmy and Joey will have to give evidence against his father.


The most remarkable aspect of this book is its astonishingly clear prose, written in a form of spare blank verse with short lines, reflecting the non-judgemental tell-it-like-it-is language of an adolescent. The enigmatic Angus speaks of himself in the third person. He was in care most of his life since his mother, who heard voices just as he does, tried to poison his milk. As he comes to trust Emmy and her mother, he recovers the use of the first person.

Other well-defined characters surprise Emmy’s initial impressions —a kindly teacher, a thoughtful cop, her own mother’s understanding both of Angus and of Emmy's father's need to leave farming because he had been forced to take it on by her grandfather.

The vivid sentiments against and later for Angus constitute a feel-good consciousness-raising story about the stigma of mental illness. But the story does not cater to a rose-coloured view of life: Emmy’s father repeatedly lets her down and never returns, although she still hopes. Similarly the unrepentant Harry Record disappoints his family and his neighbours too. The financial fretting over wheat and crops lurks like an anxity neurosis throughout the book.

Inspired by stories heard in Saskatchewan, this work is aimed at adolescents, but it makes quick and engaging reading for people at any age. Its admirable literary power is a great achievement.


This book won the 2005 Governor General's Literary Award in children's literature.


Anansi Press: Groundwood Books

Place Published

Toronto and Berkeley



Page Count