Advocate by Darren Greer

Jacob has a fulfilling job in Toronto as a counsellor at a men’s outreach centre; men living with HIV. When he is asked to come home to Advocate, the small town in Nova Scotia where he grew up, to say good-bye to his dying grandmother, he has severe misgivings. He remembers the events of 1984 well; when he was 11 years old and his Uncle David came home after being away for more than a decade.

Uncle David has full blown AIDS and has come home to die. His grandmother is not happy to see him and she’s definitely not happy to have him at her house as he slowly fades away. Young Jacob becomes witness to the fear and panic brought on by the first cases of AIDS in the country. He witnesses the arguments his mother and aunt have with his grandmother, and with the rest of the town as they are gradually alienated by almost everyone.

The full review of Advocate can be read at The Miramichi Reader.


Darren Greer’s Just Beneath My Skin won the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award in 2015. This year, Advocate was a finalist for the same award. Advocate is also the winner of the 2017 Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction. I definitely plan to seek out his other books at some point in the future.

Further Reading:

Review at Buried in Print – “In the roundtable at IFOA, Darren Greer commented that there is no formula for redemption; it’s entirely personal. But, for him, writing is an act of redemption, and writing Advocate, in particular, was one such act.”

Review at the Quill & Quire – “At the core of Advocate are questions about legacy and forgiveness. What is to be done with a town – like many others – unable to acknowledge its grave failure? And what can survivors of the crisis, and those left working in its shadow, do with that history? Greer offers no easy answers, but provides a kind of optimism that highlights the resourcefulness inherent in society’s most marginalized.”

Review at The Globe & Mail – “As the novel’s title suggests, Advocate is a central character in the story, which is not only about the epidemic in time but in place. David’s journey back to Advocate is emblematic: Many young gay men who escaped their home towns to find freedom in the big city returned to those same, often hostile, towns in their dying months because they had nowhere else to go. How will Advocate bear witness to its part in this history?

32 thoughts on “Advocate by Darren Greer

    • Naomi says:

      I was surprised how much I liked it. Like I said in my review, I worried that I wouldn’t find the subject all that compelling. He’s a good writer!

    • Naomi says:

      I didn’t find it overly hard to read. Because most of the story is narrated by 11-year-old Jacob, it’s actually quite light and sometimes funny. It was a good move on the author’s part to write from the perspective of a boy.

    • Naomi says:

      Because the author wrote it mostly from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy, it’s not as tough a read as you might think. For example, even though the grandmother holds “old-fashioned” views on many subjects, her character can also be quite amusing to read about. The character of Jacob, as well.
      Also, the whole idea of having a Lemon Day Parade on the Catholic side of the river to offset the Orange Day Parade on the Protestant side was really funny. 🙂

  1. Deepika Ramesh says:

    This sounds like an intriguing story. I am surely going to read this one. 🙂 Thank you for this post.

  2. Grab the Lapels says:

    Your review on the other site is so short compared to what I am used to from you. That was always a concern when I reviewed for other venues. Typically, they had a 500 word limit! Not enough time to rant and rave, in my opinion! 😀

    • Naomi says:

      There were no limits!
      Except for time, on my end. I find I’m shorter on time in the summer because the kids are around more and they go to bed later. Sometimes it’s as simple as that, but sometimes I just write something and feel like it’s enough. In this case, both played a factor.
      Plain and simple, it was a good book. 🙂

      • Naomi says:

        My oldest daughter has her first summer job, which is with a French day camp for kids. She’s enjoying it, but the full days are wearing her out. Or is it the kids that are wearing her out? 🙂
        My son has a football camp for a week in August, and he’s been mowing lawns for people a couple days a week. My youngest daughter is taking swimming lessons at the outdoor pool.
        We also have a few more camping trips planned. 🙂

      • Grab the Lapels says:

        That sounds really fun! My mom sent me to my FIRST-EVER camp when I had just turned 13 and was awkward and shy and weird and frizzy. The camp was NOT near my house, and it lasted TWO WHOLE WEEKS. I have no clue what this woman was thinking. I spent several days in the nurses cabin thanks to dehydration from being so home sick. Why they never demanded my parents come pick me up, I’ll never know. Later, I went to a camp all day for a week, but I would go home at night. I was also older (16?) and a lot happier with myself. That was AWESOME. I’m so glad your kids have found things to do. French camp sounds fun! I studied French for a few years, but being in the States, I now wonder what the point was. I should have learned Spanish. I could use it every day in my current town in Indiana! I can’t remember where you live; does everyone speak French? I didn’t think you were in Quebec. Nova Scotia, right? And one more question…is “football” soccer or American football in Canada? I can’t remember 🙂

      • Naomi says:

        We’re in Nova Scotia. Not everyone speaks French, but there is a large Acadian population in the Maritimes, so many people do. My kids go to the Acadian school, so they’re all bilingual now. My husband went through French Immersion, so he can also speak French. But where I grew up there wasn’t an option for French yet (there is now), so I’m the only one in the house who can’t speak it well. I’m pretty good at reading it, though.

        Football here is the same as American football. 🙂

        The only sleep-away camp I ever went to was in Grade 5 for one week and I was really homesick, so I feel for your 13-year-old self. Two weeks of it!!

  3. James says:

    It’s always difficult to get the length of a review just right. Too much and you may include spoilers that the author/publishers don’t appreciate. I didn’t set any limits for Naomi; perhaps she wants to keep her rants & raves for here! 🙂

  4. The Cue Card says:

    I like the swap which you have done with this other blogger. The story sounds like a tough one; I can imagine what the lead character would think of the grandmother but it seems at the end something makes him reconsider. The fact that she wants him to do her eulogy surprises me too. I’ll have to read it to find out!

    • Naomi says:

      The relationship between Jacob and his grandmother is well done – it’s not black and white. There’s resentment and anger, but there’s also love and affection. Definitely worth reading!

  5. buriedinprint says:

    I really enjoyed this one too. And even though I can imagine how difficult she would have been for Jacob (and other family members, too, of course, but we mainly get his POV), I laughed out loud several times at something she said or did. So believable! (But also SO opinionated and so stubborn!)

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, I found the characters very believable and real. Even though I didn’t agree with the grandmother on many things, I still liked her for other reasons. And it’s good to hear you laughed in a few parts, because I was starting to wonder if I was remembering it right. I didn’t find it too hard to read at all.

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