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The Blue Helmet    by William Bell order for
Blue Helmet
by William Bell
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

William Bell, author of Forbidden City (about Tiananmen Square), Stones, and a short story collection, just some stuff i wrote, brings us another novel with a conscience, The Blue Helmet. It starts like the usual YA tale of teen angst and turmoil - troubled teen involved in a gang, sent away from home to rehabilitate - but it turns into something quite different, and thoroughly absorbing.

Lee's rage has been erupting uncontrollably since his mother's death from cancer when he was seven. His father has since worked two jobs to make ends meet, while his son, though basically decent, has been in and out of escalating trouble. After Lee's brought home by a cop, his dad sends him to stay with his no nonsense aunt Reena, who runs a café in New Toronto and has 'a soft spot for people who floated on the edge of the stream'. It turns out that Lee has that same soft spot for street people and eccentrics.

After he's worked for a while at Reena's Unique Café, Lee's aunt gives him a bike and asks him to start a delivery service to longtime customers. Lee meets Abe, who does his own weather forecasting, and - after Andrea the pharmacist enlists him to do her prescription deliveries - he gets to know Bruce Cutter, a rich man who suffers from paranoias and delusions and whose meds barely keep him from sliding back into Never-Never Land. As Lee's delivery service expands, Bruce remains his most regular customer and an odd friendship develops.

Tragedy strikes, leaving Lee with questions about Bruce - but also the resources to get answers. He uncovers Cutter's past as a peacekeeper in the Balkans, a witness to ethnic cleansing, and finds out why Bruce 'had never really made it back' from overseas. Lee learns from his friend that 'you have two choices, the green helmet or the blue one. You can join the war, or you can keep the peace' - and applies the lesson to his own life, in a wonderfully satisfying ending.

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