Summer Reading: ‘Before Green Gables’ and ‘Harbour View’

I hope everyone’s having a lovely summer! I’m still behind on my blogging, but have been reading some good books. Here are two, both on my 20 10 Books of Summer list (hosted by Cathy @ 746Books).

1137151Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

If you’re as big of an Anne-fan as I am, then you can probably imagine the hesitation I felt going into this book; is it going to live up to Anne-standards, LMMontgomery-expectations? Well, for me, it did. I found it both Anne-like and LMM-worthy.

Before Anne came to Prince Edward Island to live at Green Gables, she lived in an orphanage in Hopetown, Nova Scotia. And before that, she lived with the Hammonds and the Thomas’. Before that, she was born to Walter and Bertha Shirley in their little yellow house in Bolingbroke, NS. We know all this from LMM’s Anne of Green Gables. But Budge Wilson imagines it all out for us; who are all these people who were in Anne’s life, and how does Anne become the girl we have all come to know and love?

I had a lot of fun getting to know Anne’s parents. They are as smart and kind as Anne always imagined/hoped they would be. But, she is only with them for 3 months before being whisked on to the Thomas’, where Mr. Thomas drinks too much and Mrs. Thomas has 4 boys in a row. Anne is expected to help take care of the children as well as help to cook and clean the house. There’s no time for adventures, but her daydreams keep her imagination alive through all the drudgery.

6484916The Hammonds are not as awful as I thought they would be (based on what I know of them from the 1985 CBC movie). But there is still too much work and responsibility for a young girl. Three sets of twins in a row? No wonder Mrs. Hammond walked around in a daze.

So, what saves Anne from becoming a completely miserable child? Her intelligence, and, of course, her imagination. Whenever she gets a chance, she spends time talking to her imaginary friends, Katie Maurice and Violetta; they are a great comfort to her when she’s exploding with emotions. She also comes across some neighbours and teachers who are kind to her. The law in Nova Scotia that all children must go to school saves her from day in and day out housework. School is her favourite place to be. And, she is delighted when the Egg Man teaches her 5 new words every time she comes to collect eggs. Her love for words, the bigger the better, shines through starting at a very young age, before she even knows what they all mean. In fact, her love for everything shines. When the Thomas’ get a cat: “My heart within my chest felt squeezed with ecstasy“. When Mrs. Hammond’s third set of twins is born: “Two baby bundles… and, as she looked at the perfect little faces, knew that she already loved them.” After making her first real friend at the orphanage: “Anne looked out the window and felt tenderness for the pathetic little sticks of trees that had been planted beside the driveway.

3235806One of the only complaints I have about the book is that I want to know what happened to all the characters she had to leave behind. Many of them had hard lives, but Anne managed to find hope and love in small, dark places.

There are some reviewers on Goodreads who would argue that this book isn’t historically accurate or true to the spirit of Anne. It’s interesting to read all their points, but I couldn’t help but feel like some of them were just looking for reasons to criticize the book. I say go into it with an open mind about Anne, rather than a rigid expectation of her, and you will sink into Budge Wilson’s world of “Before Green Gables“, and discover Anne’s limitless longing and capacity for love.

7573237Harbour View by Binnie Brennan

Harbour View is also set in Nova Scotia, albeit about 100 years later than Before Green Gables. It is made up of interconnected stories about some of the residents and staff members of a senior’s home on Halifax Harbour.

This book is based on the idea that everyone has a story, and that even the most seemingly ordinary life can be extraordinary to read about. The staff interact with the clients everyday, but they don’t really know them. The clients have their favourite and least favourite staff members, but what are the stories behind their polite talk, their forced joviality, or their gruff practicalities?

Buddy is turning 109, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be when you’ve outlived all your children.

Buddy knows it is winter, and he enjoys the irony of the sun’s warmth through his window. The harbour might well be filled with warships moored and awaiting designation, ferries zig-zagging between and around them, bringing cars and their drivers from one shore to the other. But he knows this is no longer so; he knows a bridge spans the near-empty harbour, bearing cars from Dartmouth to Halifax. A few containers and tugs will make their way through the harbour, and maybe some sailboats, even at this time of year. Buddy knows it all, but he prefers to remember things otherwise, For this his blindness is a blessing.

Dahlia reminisces about her past as she puts up with the indignities of being old.

Can’t even see her own feet! Her rounded belly and purple-veined legs, encased as they are in elasticized trousers are now her enemies, conspirators in pain and clumsiness. There was a time when they glided her around on the ice until her nose was frostbitten and her toes numb with cold. Dahlia can practically taste the hardboiled eggs, two in each pocket, supplied by her mother on skating days. Up at first light, Dahlia was off with her skates, sailing over the frozen Dartmouth Lakes until dusk. There was nothing better than a golden egg yolk on an empty stomach, washed down with a mitt-full of snow.

Muriel reminds us that everyone is just looking for a bit of kindness.

She marvels at the lemons. There is an orderliness about them that brings with it the surprise of tears, that too-familiar burn beneath the eyelids she wishes she could control. But they are perfection, sunshine orbs grown in Spain and stacked here in the produce section on a rainy day in Halifax. Of course she must cry.

Violet takes in her surroundings as she tries to enjoy any small pleasures she has left in life.

At the next table, old ladies in drab cardigans and gaudy lipstick compare dull notes on children, grandchildren, tonight’s supper of boiled chicken and peas. Violet sighs and reaches for the pepper. Nothing here is beautiful, not even the food.

For a moment she thinks of tomorrow’s bath. She closes her eyes and imagines the warmth, the fragrance of bath oil, the tingling of her scalp as strong fingers massage shampoo into what remains of her hair. Violet’s life has been reduced to so few pleasures; her weekly bath has become a regular high point.

Myrna is grieving her house and the life she had made in it. In the end, what do our lives come down to? But she is a good, kind mother to her son, and maybe kindness and acceptance is all we can hope to pass on.

How Myrna misses her kitchen with the sunlight streaming through the lace curtains. the red-and-white linoleum tiled floor, her apron hanging from a nail by the door and everything in its place. There was always something bubbling on the stove, a cake to be pulled from the oven, flowers to admire in the garden while she stood at the sink, gazing out the window while washing up. She misses the satisfaction of having cleaned and tidied the house, readying for Frank’s return from the high school, where he taught, and in later years, the freedom of moving quietly about the place, stopping in the rooms of her choosing so she might enjoy fond memories.

Estella laments the bulldozing of Africville and what it meant for her family. She feels the blatant dislike of her from many of the residents, telling herself that it is not entirely their fault; they come from a different time. But still…

She knows they assume things about her, these old people who know no better than what their parents told them, nearly a hundred years ago… She lets them assume. There was a time when she hated them for it, but now she hides behind their fears and assumptions. Her job at the nursing home, awful though it can be, provides her with what she needs to help her daughter along.     This she reminds herself during the times when she despairs of assisting on one more bath, of wiping one more elderly, white behind.

What will your story be someday?

The only complaint I have about this book is that I wish it had been longer. Lucky for me, Binnie Brennan has two other books out that I haven’t read yet!

What have you been reading?


Posted in Atlantic Canadian Books, Canadian Lit | Tagged , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

3367956Back in May, our book club read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and we all loved it. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells the story of the evacuation and internment camps of the Japanese-Americans during WWII. What I love about this one is that it’s told through the eyes of a Chinese-American boy who befriends a Japanese-American girl. The way he sees things is very different from his father’s perspective, which adds another interesting element to the story. If you decide to read this book, be ready to cry.

“I was born here. I don’t even speak Japanese. Still, all these people, everywhere I go… they hate me.”

As he left the hotel, Henry looked west to where the sun was setting, burnt sienna flooding the horizon. It reminded him that time was short, but that beautiful endings could still be found at the end of cold, dreary days.

He’d do what he always did, find the sweet among the bitter.

952287Two years ago, I read Joy Kogawa’s excellent book, Obasan. (My review.) Based on Kogawa’s own experience, Obasan tells the story of a young Japanese-Canadian girl during the war as she and her family get separated and sent to internment camps in Alberta, never to return home.

If we were knit into a blanket once, it’s become badly moth-eaten with time. We are now no more than a few tangled skeins – the remains of what might once have been a fisherman’s net. The memories that are left seem barely real. Grey shapes in the water. Fish swimming through the gaps in the net. Passing shadows.

25893553The Translation of Love takes these stories of North American internment camps a step further – it takes us to Japan after the war has ended.

12-year-old Aya and her father have returned to Japan from Canada after the war. The Japanese-Canadians were given the choice of dispersing east of the Rockies or repatriating to Japan. Aya’s father did not want to stay in a country that betrayed him the way it did, so he chose repatriation. But coming back to Japan is not easy; the country is devastated and starving, and Aya’s father struggles to find work so that Aya can continue going to school. Aya doesn’t fit in; she looks Japanese, but she is Canadian. She talks ‘funny’, has a hard time understanding everything that is said to her, and she doesn’t know how to act. She is miserable at school and does her best to make herself invisible.

The Translation of Love does not only tell Aya’s story; it alternates between the stories of several characters, all of which are connected in some way, but who all have very different lives and experiences in this new American-occupied post-war Japan.

Reading in my tent. :)

Reading in my tent.:)

There’s Fumi, the girl who eventually befriends Aya. Her sister has gone to work in the Ginza district and she hasn’t been home in a long time. Fumi is worried about her and wants to find her. She has heard that General Douglas MacArthur is here to help Japanese citizens, so she and Aya write a letter to him asking for his help to find her sister.

[First paragraph] Ever since her sister had gone away, Fumi looked forward to the democracy lunches with a special, ravenous hunger. The American soldiers came to her school once a week with deliveries, and though she never knew what they would bring, it didn’t matter. She wanted it all, whatever it was. Sometimes it was powdered milk and soft white bread as fluffy as cake. Sometimes it was delicious oily meat called Spam. Occasionally it was peanut butter, a sticky brown paste whose unusual flavor – somehow sweet and salty at the same time – was surprisingly addictive. The lunch supplements supplied by the Occupation forces reminded her of the kind of presents her older sister, Sumiko, used to bring in the days when she still came home. Fumi’s hunger was insatiable, and although she couldn’t have put it in so many words, some part of her sensed that her craving was inseparable from her longing for her sister’s return.

Fumi is not the only one writing letters to General MacArthur; hundreds of letters pour in everyday, waiting to be translated by employees of the occupation like Matsumoto (Matt). Matt is Japanese-American, and had never set foot in Japan until after the war was over. His family had been living in an internment camp, his brother one of the first to enlist in the war to prove their loyalty to the United States. Matt’s story gives us an idea of the divide between the Americans and the Japanese, as well as the general feeling of the Japanese people about the results of the war and the American occupation, through their letters.

There are also the Japanese translators who work in the alleys, translating or writing letters mostly for Japanese women who are involved with American soldiers.

… he came to see that the words were not just letters or symbols on the page. Each word was bursting with emotion. There were the emotions felt by the writer and by the reader, but also by him, the translator caught in the middle, reading secrets between lovers or dark truths shared.

Kondo is one of these men, trying to supplement his meager earnings as a school teacher. Through him we learn more about some of the changes taking place in the country and the education system; the push for Democracy.

Whatever was going to happen would happen – a new social studies curriculum, different classroom arrangements, American food for the school lunches. He had to admit that the students seemed to display no resistance at all. Maybe the Americans were right, and even if they weren’t, it didn’t matter because no one here could stop what was happening. Change was moving fast, like a giant tsunami, and Kondo did what everyone else around him did. He ran as fast as he could to keep from being crushed by the wave.

Through Sumiko (Fumi’s sister), we learn what it is to work in the dance halls, where the girls and women are expected to dance with the American soldiers, or more. They are drawn to the money and available food, hoping to provide for themselves or their families, but the jobs are not always what they imagined or hoped for.

Things happened fast on the dance floor or in the dark alleys. You had to develop a sense for danger, had to smell it coming before anything happened, before it exploded into something ugly, before it turned violent and hard. The safest way to react was not to react. To give in, to be passive. To fall limp, to make yourself small, to curl into yourself and not be a threat.

Underlying all these stories is the suffering the Japanese people have endured during the war and continue to contend with in the years following the war. But they also have a sense of hope that things will improve, and that Japan will once more be a great country. Their sense of hope and value of hard work is well illustrated by the Daruma doll that Fumi buys for Aya. It is a papier-maché of a monk’s head without any eyes. You think of something you want, then paint in one of his eyes. After you get what you want, you paint in his other eye. But you have to work for your wish; “He makes you work at making your wish come true”.

Maybe life came down to this. In the end there was only the task of moving forward, one step after another, making your way through the dust and dirt of living. You lived your own share of life, and if you could, perhaps you lived someone else’s share, too.

The Translation of Love is a wonderful addition to other works about the plight of the Japanese-Americans/Canadians during the war. What are others that you can recommend?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn an interview with Shelagh Rogers, Lynne Kutsukake explains the inspiration behind her novel.

Read about Lynne Kutsukake’s own collection of daruma dolls.

In an interview with Paste, Kutsukake talks about her own connection to the internment camps and repatriation to Japan after the war.

“I wanted to write about the occupation period from the perspective of the people who we don’t often think about—from the perspective of Japanese-Canadians and Japanese-Americans, who, for different reasons, found themselves in Japan in this particular time. A time that was extremely turbulent and full of great change, but also a time that was full of immense potential and hope, because no one quite knew which way it was going to take off and how it was going to move. I think most people were just glad the war was over and to have survived. I was trying to get at that hope that people have. You just pick up and try to move forward.”

*Thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this book. All the quotations included in this review are from an uncorrected proof.

Posted in Canadian Lit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Summer Days

I was hoping to have another review up before now, but it’s just not happening. Summer is here and the kids are home and time has been short. For the rest of the month we’ll be coming and going. Comments and posts will be sporadic. But I will be reading, and you will eventually hear about it (whether you want to or not).

In the meantime…

we’ll be doing some of this…

... and some of this.

… and some of this.

Happy Summer, everyone!:)

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Found Far and Wide by Kevin Major

BBL_FoundFarandWide_FA-209x323Normally, I prefer female protagonists in my reading. But I’ve recently read two books whose main characters (and most of the supporting characters) have been male. Richard Wagamese’s beautiful writing pulled me into Medicine Walk effortlessly. In Found Far and Wide, it is Sam’s story that had me turning the pages.

In four parts, Found Far and Wide tells the story of Sam Kennedy from Harbour Main, Newfoundland. His mother died when he was young, leaving her husband, Paddy, to bring up Sam and his younger sister. Paddy is a fisherman, and he expects Sam to join him when the time comes. But, Sam has other ideas. He’s restless, and he’s not happy with the credit system the fishermen are working with for their living. He wants more out of life.

A fellow needed to prove himself, on his own, away from his family.

What I liked about this book:

  • The Newfoundland feel, despite the fact that half of the book takes place outside of Newfoundland; WWI and the skyscrapers of New York take Sam away from home for many years.
  • Although a big section of this book is about Sam’s time as a soldier during WWI, this is not a book about the war. This is about Sam’s life and how his experiences and historical events shaped who he was and how his life played out.

Sam agreed, when it came to life and death, luck he’d always had.

  • For the most part, this isn’t a funny book, but there are some moments of humour in the book to lighten things up. Sam’s efforts to seduce Mabel in New York made me laugh; the lengths he would go to just for a chance.

Sam, sweetheart, you got to work for it. You can’t be licking the cone like it’s Sunday afternoon in the park. You can’t expect to be handed the sweetest fruit you’re ever likely to get in your whole life just by being Sam. Show me Sam with class, Show me Sam with more than fancy new Andrew Jacksons sticking out of his wallet.

Unsurprisingly, Sam’s time as a soldier had a big impact on the rest of his life; for all the obvious reasons, but also there was Emma, Johnny’s fiance. Johnny had shared his photo of her with Sam, and in the terror, tedium, and loneliness of war, Sam found himself longing for a woman he had never met. He continues to think about her through his years in New York, and when he finally decides to go home, he mostly has one thing on his mind; the girl from Johnny’s photo.

He wandered several hundred miles by train and coastal boat in anticipation of the moment he set eyes on her.

The end of the book leaves much to the reader’s imagination; which is both frustrating and satisfying. I wanted more, but more probably would have ruined it. Sam’s whole life (up until we leave him) feels aimless. At some point in the book, when I wasn’t expecting it, I became invested in Sam and his future; I wanted him to find what he was looking for… whatever that was.

“… a story of the irresistible historical forces that define our lives and the compelling private power that beckons us home.”

This is my first time reading one of Kevin Major‘s books, but he has quite an extensive backlist to explore, including children’s books and non-fiction.

*Thank you to Breakwater Books for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Posted in Atlantic Canadian Books, Canadian Lit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Gettin’ half killed once’s gotta be better’n bein’ half alive forever.


Medicine Walk tells the story of a boy and his estranged father. 16-year-old Frank is an amazing kid; he knows how to do everything. From the time he was old enough to learn, he was taught how to work on the farm and survive in the woods. But his father wasn’t the one who taught him these things. Frank has been living with ‘the old man’ for as long as he can remember; he is the only father Frank knows. They live alone on the farm, and Frank has grown up to appreciate hard work, nature, and quiet.

Alone. He’d never known lonely. If he put his head to it at all he couldn’t work a definition to the word. It sat in him undefined and unnecessary like algebra; land and moon and water summing up the only equation that lent scope to his world, and he rode through it fleshed out and comfortable with the feel of the land around him like the refrain of an old hymn. It was what he knew. It was what he needed.

As the years of his childhood go by, he comes to learn that the man who drops by from time to time is his ‘real’ father, and he begins to have questions about who he is and where he comes from. The answers to these questions don’t come until he’s 16 and his father, Eldon, has asked him to come and see him for the last time. He wants Frank to take him out into the country to die, and along the way he tells his story to Frank. A story that causes Eldon so much pain that he has chosen to numb it all these years with alcohol rather than tell it. Until now.

It’s all we are in the end. Our stories.

There are three parts to the story Eldon has to tell. The first is his childhood with his mother after his father was killed in WWII. The second is his own experience in the Korean War with his good friend Jimmy. The third is about Frank’s mother. As a raging alcoholic and neglectful parent, Eldon doesn’t have a lot going for him, but hearing the story of his life, we can’t help but feel his pain while simultaneously shaking our heads at what he has lost and the decisions he has made. How can you not feel for someone who goes through life believing he is the cause for the loss of everyone he loved?

Sad’s not a bad thing unless it gets a hold of you and won’t let go.

At times, Frank listens patiently to his father, at other times he rails against his father’s choices. He longs to know his mother and his past. But, it’s his connection with the old man that keeps him steady. Unlike Eldon, Frank has a place, and a person, to call home.

He raised a hand to the idea of his father and mother and a line of people he had never known, then mounted the horse and rode back through the glimmer to the farm where the old man waited, a deck of cards on the scarred and battered table.

It sounds grim, but the writing is so beautiful that it just pulls you along and before you know it the book is done; gut-wrenching but hopeful. One that leaves you feeling very grateful that there are people in the world like the old man.


Richard Wagamese is one of Canada’s foremost Native authors and storytellers. To learn more about his other works and his awards and recognition (which are considerable) visit his website.

Richard Wagamese discusses Medicine Walk in this interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio.

How a library helped Richard Wagamese become a writer. (Interview with Candy Palmater on CBC Radio.)

“… Richard may never have become a writer, were it not for the kindness of a group of librarians in St. Catherines, Ontario, where he stumbled into the public library at the age of 16, seeking shelter and refuge from a life on the streets.”

Medicine Walk is my 2nd review for the 20 10 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy@746Books.

Posted in Canadian Lit | Tagged , , | 26 Comments

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

27071490I haven’t read a good book about slavery in a long time. And, this is an excellent one. One of the things that makes it stand out is that it is not just about slavery; it’s about what humans do to each other, the motivation behind why we do it, and how it ripples (more like surges) out over the generations. In fact, what I love most about this book is the multi-generational look we get at one set of sisters whose lives have taken completely different paths.

Homegoing tells the story of two women who share the same mother but never meet. One is captured and sent away on a slave ship, while the other is married off to one of the white soldiers stationed on the Gold Coast of Africa in the 18th century. What follows is an account of many generations descended from these women right up until the present. I was completely absorbed in every character’s story; enthralled by the changing times and variety of circumstances. Each character had their own chapter, and each one had me wondering what was in store for them; anxious to get to the next story while feeling reluctant to leave the one I was reading. How Gyasi was able to weave the history of the last 250 years into her 300 page book is beyond me. But, she did it.

Some reviewers on Goodreads have commented on the fact that there is less connection to the characters as time goes on. I like to think that that makes sense in the context of the novel. These two lines of the family tree are getting further apart as time goes on, and becoming less and less connected with each other, and with their roots. Not only did the slave trade change the course of the lives of the enslaved, but it also had a huge impact on the people living in Africa; dividing them, filling them with shame and anger. Maybe the disconnection with the characters on the page symbolizes their ever-growing disconnection with each other and the roots of their past.

Enough of me trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about (but sometimes the comments people post on GR get me thinking more about what I’ve read). What I really want to do is tell you about all the people and events in this book (I made enough notes to), but I think it would be better for everyone to read it for themselves. I highly recommend it.

A few highlights for me:

Effia’s descendants (Africa)

The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad”, this thing “white” and this thing “black”, was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else.

This is how they lived there, in the bush: Eat or be eaten. Capture or be captured. Marry for protection… He would not be weak. He was in the business of slavery, and sacrifices had to be made.

There’s more at stake here than just slavery, my brother. It’s a question of who will own the land, the people, the power. You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood.

… if we go to the white man for school, we will just learn the way the white man wants us to learn. We will come back and build the country the white man wants us to build. One that continues to serve them. We will never be free.

We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Esi’s descendants (America)

Weakness is treating someone as thought they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.

… sometimes staying free required unimaginable sacrifice.

War may be over but it ain’t ended.

For Sonny, the problem with America wasn’t segregation but the fact that you could not, in fact, segregate. Sonny had been trying to get away from white people for as long as he could remember, but, big as this country was, there was no where to go… The practice of segregation meant that he had to feel his separateness as inequality, and that was what he could not take.

We can’t go back to something we ain’t never been to in the first place. it ain’t ours anymore. This is.

… what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it – not apart from it, but inside of it.

This is Yaa Gyasi’s first novel. You can be sure I’ll be watching for what she writes next!

This is usually where I would link to a few reviews of the book, but there are so many – just google it! If you have written one on your blog, feel free to leave a link to it in the comments.

Reading this book reminded me of Laura’s excellent review of The Wake/article about colonialism and books, at the The Rusty Toque. Read it, if you haven’t already!

*Thank you to Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review.



Posted in Other Books | Tagged , , , , , , | 40 Comments

We’re All In This Together by Amy Jones

25893652I’m happy to report that this book is as fun as it looks, without being too light (because if it’s too light then I’m probably not interested).

One thing that makes this a standout for me is the multiple narrators. Almost all the characters are given a voice at some point in the book, while some characters have more ‘air time’ than others. This allows us to see all the different angles of this crazy family over the course of one weekend.

A split second, and then everything changes. So many moments that cleave our lives in two.

Finn: (Another Serafina – shortened to Finn instead of Serrie) It was just a regular morning in her static life in Mississauga when Finn started getting phone calls from reporters wanting to ask her questions about the Conqueror of Kakabeka Falls. It turns out the Conqueror of Kakabeka Falls is her mother; she’s gone over a waterfall in a barrel and a video of it has gone viral. Miraculously, she is still alive, and in a coma. So, Finn is heading home for the first time in three years. The last time she saw her family was at her sister’s wedding where she accidentally kissed her sister’s new husband while trying to convince him to get out while he still could, causing a big fight/scene/further crack in the already extensively damaged relationship she has with her twin sister, Nicki.

She has until nine the next morning, when her plane takes her home to Thunder Bay, to transform her life into something she’s not acutely ashamed of.

She expects the absolute least from people. Including herself.

Nicki: Nicki has a foul mouth, a wild streak, 4 children by 3 different fathers by the time she’s 26, and holds a huge grudge against her sister. But, when she slept with her sister’s boyfriend of 8 years, it was for Finn’s own good. Dallas just wasn’t good enough for her.

Moments like this are what Nicki lives and dies for. Life smashed into a pulp on the ground in front of you, split open, bleeding and convulsing. Those seconds where you can see, in stark relief, the essence of everything that is important, its bright gory beating heart, without the glaze of everyday , mundane, boring details.

Shawn: Shawn seems like the only calm one in the family. He’s the oldest, but isn’t their biological brother, which makes him feel all the more determined to prove his place in the family by trying to hold everyone together while Kate is in the hospital. And, then , of course, he has his own family; Katriina and the boys.

But is it the big moments that make up a family? Or is it the quiet conversations on the front porch over a hand of cards, playing Star Wars in the backyard, the mundane arguments, the shared meals and baseball games and cups of tea with a shot of whiskey? He doesn’t know, so he has to be there for all of them, collect them all and hope in the end they add up to something that feels like a real family.

Katriina: Katriina has been trying to keep it together for years. For Shawn’s sake. But now, after three miscarriages, and being a part of the crazy Parker family, Katriina just can’t take anymore. She wants to get away from the Parkers, and she wants her husband to herself. The only thing right now that makes her feel any kind of relief is pain. She finds herself graduating rapidly from the rubber band around her wrist to more serious acts.

She stands there, waiting for her heart rate to drop, for the world to return to normal again, and thinks about how it was just like her to be so undone by someone else’s tragedy when she was standing in the middle of her own.

Walter: ‘Waiting Walter’ has loved Kate all his life, but has never been able to quite figure her out, and has always been afraid of losing her. Now, he doesn’t know what to do. And he has so many questions; about Kate, about their past, but mostly about how he is going to live without her.

Although he can’t remember a time when he didn’t love her, Walter has been almost losing Kate since the beginning of their lives.

… he could never fully shake the feeling that she was merely acting – playing the role of the good mother, the perfect wife, while pushing the real Kate further and further down.

Kate: Kate feels confused a lot of the time now. Sometimes she can’t even remember her daughters’ names. She used to be good at hiding her confusion from people; developed ways to deflect the attention, but now it’s getting harder. Like right now, she’s in a car driving to the US, but she’s not sure where she’s going or why. She does know that the girl next to her is her granddaughter, and London seems to know what she’s doing. Kate will just go along with it.

Sometimes Kate wonders: did these things really happen, or is she just imagining them? … Maybe everything she remembers is false, anyway. Maybe her memories have all been stolen and replaced with fake ones, and the ones that can’t be replaced simply disappear.

London: 16 years old, loves sharks, is an outcast at school because of her family and her eco-ism, in love with marine biologist and TV show host Adam Pelley, might even follow him into the middle of Lake Superior to save the ‘lake shark’ if she could only find someone willing to take her there. When London discovers that her grandmother has come out of her coma, she takes advantage of the situation; Kate is only too happy to go on a little trip.

If London could be any kind of animal it would be a shark, even though most people don’t really think of fish as animals, like all those dumb girls at school who claim they are vegetarians but still chow down on fish sticks in the caf when it’s the daily special. London would like to be a nurse shark or a whale shark one that is friendly and doesn’t eat a lot of meat, one that’s sort of an underdog that just goes about its business of being awesome while great whites go around hogging all the attention.

As everyone is madly trying to figure out what happened to Kate, other secrets and revelations are revealed between family members, and long-time grudges and mis-communications are hashed out. Will the Parker family be able to work out their differences, or will they just have to live with them?

The four of them sit there, staring at the baseball game, united in their hatred of a woman who is just doing her job. But they are untied, for what is probably the first time ever.

Highly recommended reading for a good time!

Amy Jones lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, which is where her novel is set, but she’s originally from Halifax, so I’m going to go ahead and claim her as Atlantic Canadian; I’m pretty sure she’d want me to. This is her first novel.

Thunder Bay seems to be a successful setting for novels these days. Last year I read Wake the Stone Man and If I Fall, If I Die, both set in Thunder Bay. I’ve never been there, but I’m starting to feel like I have.

Others who have loved this book:

Tanya @ 52 Books or Bust

Atlantic Books Today

Quill & Quire

First (reviewed) book for the 20 10 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746Books.

*Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review. All the quotes have been taken from an uncorrected proof.



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