Author: Sandy Graham
Publisher: Infinity Publishing
ISBN: 10-0-7414-7278-3: 13: 978-0-7414-7278-6
From the very first sentence and over the course of 300 pages, Sandy Graham's debut novel Delbert Pillage rivets with a great deal of mixed emotions.
As a scrawny youngster, Delbert Pillage was the target and victim of bullying from some of his classmates who would ridicule his physical appearance notably his ears, forehead and his torn clothes. Delbert was very shy, frail and poor and thus he became an easy target for incessant taunts.
Unbeknownst to his parents, teachers and the other school kids, Delbert was in fact extremely talented. His teachers misjudged his ability, as he would only show enough to scrape through each year and they would constantly complain about his lethargic attitude in class. Little did they realize that Delbert's behavior was only a cover up to avoid further humiliation at the hands of the school's bullies.
Fortunately for Delbert, one of his talented teachers did recognize his superior intellect and was the catalyst in setting in motion a series of events that eventually would lead to far reaching ramifications concerning his life. However, although Delbert agreed to pursue the path carved out for him, he did so with a great deal of trepidation, as it meant being away for extended periods of time from his sweetheart Sylvia, whom he had known since the age of six and whom he had promised to marry. To give away or even provide any hint as to what became of their relationship would certainly be a betrayal.
Apart from bringing to the table a smorgasbord of themes as bullying, unrecognized gifted children, teenage love, and the tragic consequences of rape, Graham cleverly interweaves a backstory concerning Canada's finest aviation achievement, the production of the delta wing Avro Canada CF-105. It was at the height of the Cold War during the 1950s that the Soviets had introduced new long range bombers that had the ability to fly over the North Pole to attack North America. This was extremely serious for fear of a surprise nuclear attack. In 1953 Canada stepped forward to manufacture a delta-winged interceptor aircraft that was designed and built by Avro Aircraft Limited in Malton, Ontario. The aircraft was to serve as the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) primary interceptor in the 1960s. Unfortunately, not long after the 1958 commencement of its flight test program, the development of the Arrow was abruptly and controversially halted and this led to a very long and bitter political debate. It also led to a serious brain drain that deeply affected the aviation and electronics industry in Canada.
Graham writes in a spare compact style sketching the life of a young teenager growing up, gaining confidence and coming to terms with his brilliance-something not to be ashamed of or hidden. Both adults and young adults will enjoy the suspense and unexpected twists and turns of the storyline, however, this is not to say that the novel is without its defects. For example, I would have liked to have seen more development of conflict particularly in the relationship between Delbert and Sylvia. In addition, Graham, influenced by his vast amount of experience in the Canadian and American aviation industry, has fallen prey to what the French term, “deformation professionnelle,” or the over usage of technical terms and descriptions, and as a result, very little is really added to the development of the characters or the plot. Nonetheless, Graham still manages to weave a gripping yarn and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.