A transformative tale of youth

Traces of a Boy: Reflections of the Unfathomable
by Russ Grabb

Victoria: Tellwell Talent, 2023
$20.99  /  9781779410061

Reviewed by Amy Tucker


Traces of a Boy: Reflections of the Unfathomable by Russ Grabb is a profoundly moving and insightful memoir that goes into the complexities of the author’s life, marked by trauma, resilience, and a relentless pursuit of inner peace. Grabb’s candid and often raw narrative provides an authentic look into his struggles with leukemia, the impact of childhood abuse, and his journey toward healing and acceptance. As someone who grew up experiencing abuse, struggled with acceptance, and worked within the criminal justice system, I found this book to be relatable and also profoundly enlightening.

Grabb’s memoir takes readers on a chronological journey through his life, interwoven with reflective passages that offer deeper insights into his thoughts and emotions. The narrative shifts between past and present, creating a comprehensive, engaging storyline that draws the reader into Grabb’s world.

Upon picking up Traces of a Boy, I expected to gain further insights into the author’s battle with leukemia and his coping mechanisms for dealing with childhood trauma. My expectations were not only met but exceeded. Traces of a Boy is Russ Grabb’s life journey. Grabb’s qualifications to write on this topic are rooted in his experiences. His firsthand accounts of battling a rare form of leukemia and coping with the aftermath of childhood abuse lend authenticity and credibility to his narrative.

Russ Grabb as a 19-year-old RCMP constable

The book contains reflective passages that provide deeper insights into Grabb’s thoughts and emotions. This structure effectively conveys the progression of his life and the evolution of his perspectives. The book aims to share Grabb’s journey of self-discovery and healing, highlighting the transformative power of love and acceptance. This purpose is consistently supported throughout the memoir as Grabb reflects on his experiences and the lessons he has learned.

Grabb’s main argument is that true fulfillment and peace come from within and through genuine connections with others. He emphasizes the importance of accepting oneself and finding support from loved ones rather than seeking validation through external achievements. Grabb supports his arguments with personal anecdotes, medical details about his leukemia, and reflections on his relationships. For instance, his description of his chemotherapy sessions and their impact on his life provides a solid foundation for his arguments about resilience and support systems. “Oh, it’s probably nothing, Mr. Grabb,” encapsulates the initial dismissal of his symptoms, reflecting a common struggle among leukemia patients.

Russ Grabb as a 43-year-old RCMP investigator pictured in Ottawa on May 30, 2000 facing media questions about a Canadian Forces soldier who returned to Canada from Croatia with mysterious ailments.

One of the book’s key strengths is its emotional honesty. Grabb does not shy away from sharing the raw and painful aspects of his experiences, which makes the narrative compelling and relatable. He writes, “I was certain all three were up in heaven begging me to stay alive—just in case some other little boy or girl needed a caring man like me to step up and do what nobody else ever seemed willing to do,” highlighting his motivation to persist despite overwhelming odds. His vivid recounting of his health struggles and their emotional toll adds depth to his story.The book also illustrates the transformative power of supportive relationships, mainly through the character of Marianne, who plays a crucial role in Grabb’s recovery and emotional well-being.

The memoir occasionally tends to repeat itself, especially in the reflective parts. While these reflections provide depth, they can disrupt the flow of the story, especially if you read the book for several days, like I did. Some readers may also need to become more familiar with medical terminology and find certain sections challenging without additional explanation.

A photo of Russ Grabb at 55, nearer to the time of his battle with leukemia, taken in 2012. Vancouver-based Grabb left the RCMP in 2006 and began his own digital-tech and executive boardroom consulting firm

As someone who has grown up with abuse and worked with at-risk youth and clients on bail or conditional release inmates before my current career in academia, I found Grabb’s reflections on childhood trauma particularly resonant. His discussions on the long-term impacts of abuse and the challenges of overcoming such trauma are insightful and align with my professional observations. Grabb’s journey highlights the importance of resilience and the role of supportive relationships in healing, which are crucial themes in my work with at-risk individuals.

Grabb concludes that despite the hardships and trauma, one can find peace and happiness through self-acceptance and the support of loved ones. This conclusion is effectively developed through the narrative as Grabb reflects on his journey and the transformative impact of his relationships.

I highly recommend Traces of a Boy: Reflections of the Unfathomable by Russ Grabb. This memoir’s authenticity and emotional depth make it a compelling read, especially for those who have experienced trauma or work in the mental health and criminal justice fields. Grabb’s story is a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit and the transformative power of love and acceptance. Thank you for being you.


Amy Tucker

Amy Tucker is an instructor at Thompson Rivers University with a diverse educational background, including expertise in leadership, organizational behaviour, sustainability and ethics, and human resource management. In her spare time, she loves to read and enjoy adventures in her travel van, lovingly named “Vanish.” [Editor’s Note: Amy Tucker has reviewed books by Meaghan Marie Hackinen, Jayne Seagrave, Joanna Kafarowski and Martha Piper & Indira Samarasekera for The British Columbia Review.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction and poetry)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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One comment on “A transformative tale of youth

  1. Traces of a Boy, Reflections of the Unfathomable, written by Russ Grabb, is an excellent, though horrifying, memoir. It fills a void in survivors’ literature, as much less is written about survivors of incest perpetuated by mothers (or women) against their sons and daughters compared to incest perpetuated by fathers (or men) against daughters and sons. Mr Grabb has a great sense of humour, which makes the book a little easier to read, given the subject.

    I have great respect for Mr Grabb’s work with the RCMP. As he documents in his book, he succeeded in arresting Dr James Tyhurst in 1989, having the brains and guts to get search warrants for both the doctor’s home office and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC’s records of their infamous inquiry into the doctor’s medical licence 7 years previous. He was the first person in authority to stop the crimes of Dr. Tyhurst in the 30 years he was at UBC Medical School.

    As one of many survivors/victims of Dr Tyhurst, I have no doubt Mr Grabb’s arrest of the doctor saved my life. After 9 years of torture, including violent sexual assaults with weapons, it was very difficult to heal. The legal process, lasting about 20 years, was also very difficult. Reading his book, and speaking with him and his wife Marianne, has been very healing, though challenging. Now three months since I first spoke to Russ about his book and experiences, I am still shocked by the torture he survived as a child, especially given his vast work with the RCMP.

    Best wishes to Russ, his wife Marianne and family.

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