I’ve spent a lot of time this winter reading both novels and picture books for young readers. One of the many novels I read was Fourth Dimension by the very prolific Eric Walters.
Fourth Dimension is a novel for older teens, with the main character, and narrator, 15-year-old Emma, as the novel begins. Emma lives in an apartment building on the lakeshore of a large city with her mother, Ellen, and her younger brother, Ethan. Her parents, both in the military, are recently separated and Emma and Ethan are preparing for the school year to begin. But, first, a bit of a holiday. As Emma, her mother, and brother pack their car to go on an end of summer camping trip the lights go out in the underground garage. It is determined, quite soon, that the power is out across the city. Their cell phones do not work. Nothing digital or computerized works. And the story begins.
Emma’s mother, with her training both as a Marine and as an emergency room nurse ,is a woman who is both brave and smart. She knows that in order to protect her children, and herself, she must get them out of the city. With their canoe and camping supplies at the ready they paddle some way out into the lake to a group of islands, away from the city but within sight.
Anyone who knows the city of Toronto will recognize the landscape. There is the city, and the Toronto islands. I can only imagine that Eric Walters has made Ellen Williams a Marine, rather than a member of the Canadian Armed Forces so that this book will also find an American readership.
As one might expect things go from bad to worse. On one of the islands Emma and her family make friends among the community who have homes there. But, there is constant danger of invasion from those seeking food and shelter, many are attempting to escape the increasing violence being experienced in the city. Emma’s mother tells her children “I’ve seen another dimension, to the world and to people. There’s a fourth dimension to people that you don’t normally see. Normal, nice people in normal and nice circumstances become different when bad things happen. Desperate situations cause people to do desperate things.”
And, things do get desperate. I would not recommend this book for anyone younger than 15 years old. There is death, and there is killing. There are people with guns. I have to say, as an old pacifist, that I found the violence in this book disturbing. But, in today’s world I realize that most young readers will find it less disturbing than the news. It will make everyone who reads it think of those who live in parts of the world where there is war, and where each day brings the challenge of survival.
A few years ago I interviewed Eric Walters about an earlier novel and remember him saying he’d kill to protect his family. In this novel, Ethan asks his mother is she would really have shot some men who were threatening their community. She replies, “If I had to.”