The Canyon's Edge

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
The Canyon's Edge Book Poster Image
Poetry lends shape to dramatic, gripping desert adventure.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information about the desert, its plants, animals, weather patterns, and rocks, some Native American rituals and plant usage. Also how therapy works and the patterns of grief and trauma.

Positive Messages

Getting through trauma is a process that takes time and effort, but good things come from getting help. A challenge to your physical and emotional limits can show you who you really are. Letting people love you can help you heal. Your inner strength can take you to new levels of achievement. Life may get very painful, but there's beauty in resilience. Nora is presumed White. She recognizes wisdom of Native Americans who are traditional residents of the desert, and a brown-skinned mom who sacrificed herself to save other people's lives.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nora has suffered great loss, but she doesn't give up, even when she's tested to her very limits of survival. Nora's father experiences his grief by being overprotective of Nora, but he teaches her to be physically skilled in climbing and backpacking. Nora's mom and another mother save their children's lives when a shooting occurs, but both die in the process.

Violence

Nora's mother is shot and killed, along with other people, in a restaurant the year before the story takes place. Nora's father was also shot in the leg; his injury still affects him. Nora experiences trauma and its aftermath: graphic nightmares, she believes a "demon" is following her, she describes him stalking her in terrifying terms. She fears for her life but also considers that she might not care whether she dies or not. Nora is left to fend for herself in a canyon, without food, water, shelter, or help. Graphic descriptions of injuries -- both self-inflicted and accidental. 

Sex
Language

"Damn."

Consumerism

Jeep, Frosted Flakes, The Beatles and their songs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Canyon's Edge is a story written in prose and verse that deals with a parent's violent death and the trauma it leaves behind. Arizona middle-schooler Nora and her dad survived a shooting in a restaurant a year before the story takes place, but Nora's mom did not. Their grief has crippled them to the point where Nora's father won't allow Nora to return to school for fear that something will happen to her. A flash flood has severe consequences during a backpacking and climbing trip that the two of them take in the Sonoran desert near their home. Nora encounters graphic physical injuries (skin tearing, venomous stings, tearing and cutting her hair from her head, eating desert fruit full of cactus needles, blacking out from pain) and emotional challenges (PTSD flashbacks, nightmares) as she struggles to survive the aftermath of the flash flood. Strong language is limited to "damn."

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What's the story?

In THE CANYON'S EDGE, Nora and her dad have planned a backpacking and climbing trip on the anniversary of Nora's mom's death. It happens to also be Nora's birthday, but rather than eat cake, she and her dad are going to tackle a challenging canyon in the Arizona desert. What they don't plan for is a flash flood that rips through the canyon. Within minutes, their trip has turned into a rush to get out intact. Nora is pushed to her absolute physical and emotional limits in a sudden fight for survival. She confronts her deepest fears, looking trauma in the face, as she attempts to get to a place of physical safety and emotional stability.

Is it any good?

Intense and gratifying, this adventure story explores the battle to overcome loss, using verse to its advantage. In The Canyon's Edge, author Dusti Bowling uses poetry as her main character's means of coping with emotional and physical tragedy. The line breaks and the movement of the words across the field of text make the action-packed narrative jump off the page. Imagery, personification, and other poetic devices deliver powerful emotional moments.

Kids will appreciate that Nora totally owns this art form. She's not just a character who enjoys painting or dancing or some form of expression that is described by an author. Her art form is the story, and it's graphic, moving, and gritty. Nora's emotional arc drifts dangerously close to being self-destructive, but with the help of her therapist, Mary, whose voice echoes throughout the poems like a guardian angel, Nora overcomes her greatest obstacles and finds a will to survive that she didn't know she had.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about gun violence in The Canyon's Edge and how it changes all of the lives involved. How are Nora's friendships affected? Can things return to normal for her?

  • How does Nora's emotional state get expressed in this book? Do her feelings come through in her poetry? Do you have a creative outlet where you can express your true feelings?

  • Who are Nora's trusted people? Who can she talk to when she's afraid? Who are your trusted people?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventure stories and grief tales

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