The Night Drummer is the story of two teenage friends--white, middle-class Peter Ellis, and Otis James, a native boy adopted by an older evangelical Christian couple. Peter and Otis grow up in small town Ontario in the 1970s, and the novel follows them through their high school years where both confront challenges that require them to decide who they are and who they want to be, decisions that will have profound consequences not only for themselves, but for their friends and family.
About the author
Paul Mason has written two novels: Battered Soles and and three plays: The Discipline Committee, Circles of Grace, and Sister Camille's Kaleidoscopic Cabaret, which took first prize in an international competition sponsored by Christians in Theatre Arts. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario where he teaches English and Drama.
A spate of recent coming-of-age novels depicts Canadian adolescence as notably grim, a period of scarring traumas and tribulations, but Mason's quietly affecting third novel (The Night Drummer) offers a welcome change. Primarily set in the early 1970s as even-keeled narrator Peter Ellis is growing up as "a small town boy if there ever was one," the novel doesn't skimp on tough subject matter: the steady marital decay of Ellis's parents, sudden death, sexual assault, brutal students (one who's "two hundred pounds of grease and malevolence"), virulent racism and homophobia, and LSD-dealing bikers, all found in one ordinary Ontario town. As Ellis sleeplessly anticipates his high school's looming 25-year reunion, his recollections balance moments of encroaching darkness with plenty of joyous light. Ellis's memories of first loves and jobs and an endearingly oddball assortment of friends, including Otis, a preternaturally wise and kind Ojibwe boy adopted by devout Caucasian parents, give this portrait a welcome sweetness that draws attention to the innocence, sheer possibility, and blithe lightheartedness of youth. "Small towns can be ugly places," Ellis remarks, "but they can be warm communities too." Nostalgic but not sanitized, this novel shows the interplay of the two, with captivating results. (Apr.) ~ Publishers Weekly