Although Brian O’Connal is, at times, too mature for his age, he is usually depicted quite realistically. The boy is not only sensitive but also determined and tenacious. Furthermore, his quest is, if somewhat too programatically controlled by the author, a moving account of a boy’s gradual steps toward maturity and insight. W. O. Mitchell has carefully linked the boy’s perception to the dimensions of the small prairie town in which he lives. By making the boy learn about his world through the local people, the typical animals, and the natural forces of the prairies, the author is capable of gradually moving the boy’s eyes and understanding from the immediate events in the town to the distant horizon, thereby giving a convincing portrayal of growth and maturation.
Many of the novel’s other characters are not as successfully drawn. Mrs. Abercrombie is an all-too-extreme and all-too-recognizable hypocrite. Mr. Powelly, too, is a zealot bordering on caricature. Regrettably, even the Ben family borders on a stereotype. The father is the classic ne’er-do-well of the small town, and young Ben functions much too obviously as an alter ego for Brian. At times, then, the characters are used didactically, not naturally: The writer clearly wants to suggest a moral rather than tell a tale. Since the book is, in part, a children’s story focusing on the sensibility of a young boy under the age of twelve, the exaggeration may be forgiven. Unfortunately, the stereotypical presentation of many of the characters cannot be completely forgotten by the mature reader, and the novel therefore suffers slightly.