Author: Sharon McKay
Publisher: Stoddart Kids, 2000
The first of the wounded they picked up that night was young. Maybe nineteen years old. His tunic, soaked through with blood, had turned purple. It was the only thing holding him together.
"Mother," cried the boy. "Mother."
"Run, kid, run," yelled the stretcher-bearer. This time Charlie gave no thought to his head bouncing over the top of the trench. He just ran. . . .
"I hates it when they does that," said the stretcher-bearer, who plunked himself down on a crate and fished around his tunic for cigarettes.
"Calls out for their mother. Means they are going to die."
Charlie slumped down, his back pressed up against the mud wall of the trench. "Is it always like this?"
Yes, it is always like this when you are an under-age medic in France during World War I. So, how does Charlie Wilcox get from the outport of Brigus to Beaumont Hamel? An interesting blend of fact (Charlie Wilcox is the author's great-uncle) and fiction, Sharon E. McKay's novel tells the story. Charlie Wilcox is a Newfoundlander, born into a family of sailors and sealers. But, a club foot and the constant reminder that "He's not made for the ice" make it unlikely that he'll follow the tradition. As a result, his family sends him off to St. John's for a higher education than the local school can provide, and that trip provides an opportunity that changes everything. Finding his way down to the harbour, he boards a boat, believing it to be a sealing vessel. In fact, Charlie is on his way to Europe with other Newfoundland soldiers heading for the front. Barely fourteen, he is far too young to be fighting, and arrangements are made for him to be sent home. In the meantime, Charlie becomes a medic, begins searching for Lily Mackenzie, aka Mac, the beautiful young nurse who cared for him when he was in hospital in St. John's, and is exposed to the horrors and heroism of war.
Although it sounds like a typical "boy goes to war and grows up" adventure story, Charlie Wilcox is more. Its strong historical context provides a window on life in pre-Confederation Newfoundland, as well as a grimly realistic depiction of the weary life of the common soldier. There's romance, there's humour, and a fast-moving story that will appeal both to male and female readers.
Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at St. John's High School in Winnipeg, MB.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association
Reviews for Charlie Wilcox
McKay depicts small town Newfoundland with humor and verve, catching us instantly with her straight-speaking characters and their long standing knowledge of each other.
Sharon McKay does indeed spin a good yarn, from the beautiful outport of Brigus to the trenches of the Somme.
McKay's prose is scintillating and she's at her best when describing the fighting-you can almost hear the deafening shelling, smell the mucky odor of the trenches, see the blinding flash of the guns, hear the ping, ping of the snipers' post-battle bullets.
An absolutely great book. It is one of the best adventurer stories to come out of Newfoundland, and it will become a classic.