From the Library: Emily Austen, Richard Levangie, and Julie Pellisier-Lush

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

This book reminded me of an Ottessa Moshfegh book, except Gilda is more endearing than Moshfegh’s characters. Described on the front cover as “the bumbling, anxious, helplessly kindhearted heroine we all need right now,” Gilda suffers from anxiety and depression and is well known at the hospital’s emergency department.

I clench my steering wheel while I stew intensely with the reality that I am a living, breathing thing that is one day going to die. Reckless drivers can snuff me out. I am trapped inside this fragile body. I could be run off the road. I could be crushed by a van. I could choke on a grape. I could be allergic to bees; I am so impermanent that a measly bug could hop from a daisy to my arm, sting me, and I could be erased. Black. Nothing.

Having recently lost her job, Gilda is desperate enough for a new one that she accepts a receptionist job at a Catholic church despite the fact that she is an agnostic lesbian. Then she spends a lot of time worrying that she’ll be discovered as an imposter. But she has other stuff to worry abut as well: her brother’s alcohol problem, her parents’ obliviousness to her brother’s alcohol problem, and whether or not her girlfriend will be able to put up with her unexplained and unpredictable silences.

What I love most about Gilda is where her mind goes. With the exception of hypochondriac tendencies and an obsession with death, her mind kind of works like mine. She wonders what goes through cats’ minds; what would happen if the old man on the bus were to stumble and fall; she googles how long it will take each item of garbage in her trash can to decompose, etc.

I start to picture a world where Jesus had been killed by a different murder device. I picture little ceramic guillotine figurines. I imagine miniature nooses hung above children’s beds. Electric chair necklaces and earrings.

I wonder how long it takes the cells in our bodies to replace themselves. I wonder if I’m literally no longer the same person I was when Ingrid and I were friends.

I wonder, why do we do this? We give each other rocks and wear expensive clothing to sign papers saying we will be someone’s partner until one of us dies. We involve the government.

Everyone in this room has managed to grow old despite how easy it is to die. They all escaped their childhoods alive despite tuberculosis, polio, and whatever other horrible illnesses afflicted humanity when they were kids. They drove without seatbelts, in cars full of cigarette smoke. They survived literal wars. Terrible things have probably happened to every single person in this room, and yet here they are.

Here I am.

Secrets of the Hotel Maisonneuve by Richard Levangie (Nevermore Press)

This is a middle-grade novel that I wanted to read because it is written by a local author, published by a local publisher (whose books I was just raving about in my last post), and I have been hearing lots of good things about it.

Jacob glared at the hulking mansion, all peeling paint and crumbling cornices. The house that had ruined his life.

Having recently moved away from his friends and into a derelict hotel that he is expected to help renovate, Jacob’s summer isn’t going so well. It gets much worse when–while running from a bully–Jacob bumps into an elderly woman and knocks her down.

She was neatly dressed in a navy blue floral dress, colourless cardigan and sensible navy slip-on shoes. Her pencil-straight salt-and-pepper hair was pinned behind her ears. Her tidiness looked wrong on the grimy, gum-splotched sidewalk.

He feels terrible about it, yet is not happy that his parents insist that he spend his afternoons helping the woman at her apartment until she is feeling better.

The one thing that makes his summer worth living is the old note he finds in a secret drawer at the back of some antique furniture at the hotel – a letter written by a boy in 1913 that leads to a treasure hunt. As one thing leads to another, Jacob learns a few things… including what makes a bully a bully, how good things can come from bad, and how to play a good game of conkers.

This book is full of action, adventure, positive messaging, and literary references from The Lord of the Rings. What more can you ask for?

Epekwitk Mi’kmaq Poetry from Prince Edward Island: L’nu Poems and Art by Julie Pellissier-Lush (Acorn Press)

Since “meeting” Julie on Zoom last year, I have greatly admired her: not only for her artistic creativity (acting, poetry, art), but for her friendliness and willingness to help out. And then–on top of that–I learned she has 5 children.

Julie’s poems are divided up into five sections: Teachings, Ghost Stories, Prayers, My Family, and Taking a Stand. Each poem is accompanied by a work of art by Julie.

In The Braid we learn what a Mi’kmaq braid represents. One part is a prayer for the heart, one a prayer for the mind, and one a prayer for the soul. “They are pulled all together and intertwined that way/To connect the heart, mind, and soul…

In Our Four Colours we learn the meaning behind each colour, each colour representing more than one thing: red (“the colour of our life’s blood, keeping us healthy and strong“), black (“the colour of my mind as it rests my present and connects me to my ancestors“), yellow (“the colour of joy, excitement for everything new and beautiful“), and white (“the colour of our knowledge, our traditions, and stories we keep“). White also represents “the language I speak as my Mi’kmaq words are lost.

In Lost Mi’kmaq Graves on PEI, we are reminded: “Who were they and what were their names?/Back then we were thought to be all the same…

I found the poems in Taking a Stand the most powerful and emotional:

The Dandelion: “When I say wish, even to myself, that means I still have hope

I Believed:I believed everyone was treated equal / I believed everyone had access to all they needed / I believed everyone had a childhood full of fairy tales / I believed that when you were old there was always somebody there / I don’t believe that anymore

Why We Take a Stand: “The government comes in to consult / over and over and over, it’s an insult

The Apple Trees: “It is now, it is time, come listen to our truths / Bring all our children home from beneath those choking roots

Did I mention she’s also a fabulous storyteller who has authored a children’s book called Mi’kmaq Campfire Stories of Prince Edward Island?

What have you been reading from the library? Do you ever dabble in middle-grade fiction? Do you have any to recommend?

20 thoughts on “From the Library: Emily Austen, Richard Levangie, and Julie Pellisier-Lush

  1. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner says:

    Ohhh, middle grade is wonderful! I loved A Tale Dark and Grimm (trilogy) by Adam Gidwitz, It Ain’t So Awful Falafel By Firoozeh Dumas, Far Far Away by Tom McNeal, The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla just to name a few (oh and anything Neil Gaiman)… πŸ™‚

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    I would pick up Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead just for the title! I have been reading a fair bit of middle-grade fiction, actually. My current one is The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke, set in Amsterdam in the late 19th century. Five orphans who no one wanted to adopt engineer their escape from the orphanage and adventure ensues! I love how you always champion local authors and presses.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Rebecca! I LOVE reading local authors! But obviously there are other good books out there, too. πŸ™‚
      I think I DID pick up Everyone in This Room because of the title (plus the little red maple leaf sticker on the binding). I find it pays off more often than not!
      The Unadoptables is one I haven’t heard of – good title!

  3. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    That middle grade book sounds great! I “dabble” mostly because my son is the right age for it. I really have enjoyed the Winterhouse series by Ben Guterson and The Vanderbeekers series by Karina Yan Glaser.

  4. annelogan17 says:

    Middle Grade fiction is great, I don’t read much but I will no doubt read more once my kids reach that stage in their reading – my oldest is close!

    I enjoyed that first book – everyone in this room will one day be dead – I found it really funny and entertaining πŸ™‚

    • Naomi says:

      If you like Moshfegh (which I think I remember that you do!) then it’s likely you’ll also like Austen’s book.
      I don’t read a lot of MG, either, but I’m hoping to read a few more than usual now that I work in Youth Services at the library. I have so many books to read, though, that I find it hard to prioritize them.

  5. Marcie McCauley says:

    Does Pippi Longstocking count as middle-grade? I happen to be staring at my childhood copy. Pippi is just hilarious. And the perfect tone I am craving right now. I might just take a quick peek for bedtime reading actually! All of these sound good to me, in different reading moods. And I’m reading some poetry and a few of the new Margaret Atwood essays from the library, but that’s all.

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, Pippi is middle-grade! I love Pippi, and can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have stood the test of time for kids now. What kid doesn’t daydream about only having to go to school when they feel like it? Or letting their pet horse inside the house?

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