My rating: 6.5/10. Rather pedestrian writing, but a decent “school story” with a strongly depicted Canadian setting. The intended audience would likely be preteen girls.
Eleven-year-old Elizabeth – Eliza – Chapman has always dreamed of going to boarding school. She’s been reading English school stories for years, and thinks that wearing a uniform, living in a dormitory, and eluding Matron while having midnight feasts would be much more exciting than going to her boring old Edmonton day school. Her parents’ transfer to Toronto for a year seems like a grand opportunity to fulfill her dream. After much persuasion, Eliza is enrolled in Vancouver’s Ashdown Academy for her Grade Seven year, and with only a minor bout of homesickness enters into communal life with great enthusiasm.
Her fellow roommates are a widely varied lot: prim and bossy Pam, meek and gentle Jean, friendly Carrie and rambunctious, unpopular Helen. Alternately horrified by and attracted to Helen, Eliza finds herself drawn into a friendship which will have some serious consequences before the year is out. The “Daring Game” of the title is invented by Helen, and though some of the dares are simple enough to carry out, the last one goes very wrong and embroils Eliza in an impossible dilemma: stand up for a friend, or tell strict the Headmistress, Miss Tavistock, what is going on.
This was B.C. librarian and veteran kidlit author Kit Pearson’s first novel, and was inspired by her own teenage years at a Vancouver private school. It’s a decent enough middle grade novel, though my own daughter set it aside after the first chapter when I brought it home for her to read during her own Grade Seven year. I read it then and wasn’t terribly enthralled either, and this second reading for the purposes of writing this review (and possibly culling the book from our shelves) hasn’t really changed my mind.
Published in 1986, but set in 1964, The Daring Game attempts to reflect the scene of twenty years earlier, and though all the references are indeed correct, perhaps not enough time had passed to make it truly interesting from a historical point of view. The characters and the situations are competently presented, but this novel remained, to my mind, rather unexceptional from first page to last. Eliza goes through all the motions, but at the end of the story I found I was more than ready to bit her an easy farewell with nary a thought about what was to come next for her.
Kit Pearson has gone on to write a number of other well-regarded juvenile novels, including the “Guests of War” trilogy involving British children sent to Canada during World War II: The Sky is Falling, Looking at the Moon, and The Lights Go On Again, which I’ve dipped into but not read in their entirety, and a time travel story, Awake and Dreaming, which I read and enjoyed. She’s an author worth keeping in mind if you have middle grade readers looking for something with strong Canadian content and thoughtfully (but not graphically depicted) challenging situations.
While I’m not tremendously enthusiastic about The Daring Game, I will give it a mild “okay”. Worth a try; might be just what your own young reader is looking for. I’m not quite ready to pitch it yet – see why our shelves are groaning! – but will try to read a few other titles by this author before deciding if she’s indeed a general “keeper”. The B.C. connection makes it hard to be heartless, though Pearson’s titles are abundant in local libraries and bookstores, and should be easy to find for the forseeable future even if I relinquish ownership of my personal copies.