Annabel by Kathleen Winter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have heard good things about this book since it came out, but haven’t gotten around to reading it until now.  It did not disappoint me.  It is also on the Canada Reads Top 10 list for this year, and I think is a good contender for the Top 5.

Kathleen Winter was born in England but was raised in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Annabel was published in 2010 and won the Thomas Head Raddall Award.  It was also short-listed for the Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Governor General’s Awards, and the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction.

What this book is about, in a nutshell:  Annabel is about a boy growing up in a small town in Labrador.  A boy named Wayne.  But he is not just any boy.  When he was born, he had both male and female parts, and his parents had to make a decision.  His mother, Jacinta, wanted to wait and see, but his father, Treadway, felt strongly that a decision should be made.  So, with the help of a doctor, it was decided that the baby would be brought up as a boy.  This book is his story.

Treadway, duck hunting on the river.

Treadway, duck hunting on the river.

What I like about this book:  This story is told with care and compassion.  There are so many beautiful passages that feel real and true.  I also like reading about all the ‘blasts from the past’, like some of the television shows that are mentioned and Casey Kasum’s Top 40.

My favourite part of the book:  Because my favourite part is at the end, I won’t tell you about it.  However, I was also intrigued by the relationship between Wayne and his father.  At times their relationship was heartbreaking and I wanted to to get in there and do something about it.  It was interesting to watch it develop and change over time.

My least favourite part of the book:  Just when Wayne was trying to finally figure out who it was he really wanted to be, he was attacked.  This was a hard part of the book to read.

Who should read this book:  Anyone who loves a beautiful coming-of-age story, about being different from others, about relationships between family and friends, and about struggling with your own identity.  This book is not for anyone who is looking for a light, happy-go-lucky read.

Favourite quotes:  I think it’s fun to read a few quotes from books, but in some cases passages from books can almost give us just as much sense of a book than talking about it can.  I found some of these very powerful.

A snippet of what some of the women talk about when they’re together:

“Every woman in Croyden Harbour spoke at one time or another of how she might enjoy living on her own.  The women indulged in this dream when their husbands had been home from their traplines too long.”  One woman says, “I would not need any supper except a couple of boiled eggs and I’d read a magazine in bed every single night.”

Jacinta, struggling with the truth of her child:

“…how will we give this child so much love it will know no harm from the cruel reactions of people who do not want to understand.”

“Truth or Consequences was another TV show.  She could relate to that title.  You told the truth or you lived with consequences like these.  If you hold back truth you couldn’t win.  You swallowed truth, and it went sour in your belly and poisoned you slowly.”

A concerned friend of the family:

“A child’s worry was not like an adult’s.  It gnawed deep, and was so unnecessary.  Why did people not realize children could withstand the truth?  Why did adults insist on filling children with the deceptions their own parents had laid on them, when surely they remembered how it had felt to lie in bed and cry over fears no one had bothered to help you face.”

“If you had a choice between knowing a scary truth and a comforting lie, which would you choose?”

And my very favourite:

“But what would Wayne do with the truth?  He would need more than the truth.  He would need a world that understood.”

3 thoughts on “Annabel by Kathleen Winter

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