Y by Marjorie Celona

A powerful and compelling read for me. A search for a past by a child given up at birth told in the child’s voice and then the mother’s story, much of it from the perspective of the child. A fascinating cinematic cast of characters, Shannon; Harrison Church, Shannon’s father; Eugene, her brother; Yula, her mother; Quinn, Yula’s father; several sets of foster parents; Miranda, the mother after Shannon turns five; Vaughn who saw Yula abandon Shannon; Lydia-Rose, Miranda’s birth daughter; and an array of minor characters such as Edwin and his brother(junk dealers), Chloe the receptionist at the YMCA, Winkie the dog and Luella, a friend of Yula’s mother Jo. Quill & Quire says the novel is “uneven” and The Vancouver Observer says it is “unpleasant to read”. I never for a minute found it anything but compelling. It made the Giller longlist as well as the Maclean’s magazine’s list of bestsellers: no small accomplishment for a first novel.

The setting is Vancouver Island and the protagonist was abandoned there in front of the main Y by M. Celonadoors of the Victoria YWCA. She was wrapped up in an old grey hooded sweatshirt and the only possession with her was a Swiss army knife. After passing through the hands of a number of foster parents,at age five she comes to live with Miranda who works for Molly Maid and has another daughter, Lydia-Rose who is a little older than Shannon and a “classic beauty” whereas Shannon has a head of tight curls, a lazy left eye and a sarcastic tongue which gets her in trouble constantly.

Before the story begins we are given this information about the letter Y:

“That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass. The question we ask over and over. Why? Me with my arms outstretched, feet in first position. The chromosome half of us don’t have. Second to last in the alphabet: almost there. Coupled with an L, let’s make an adverb. A modest X, legs closed. Y or N? Yes, of course. Upside-down peace sign. Little bird tracks in the sand.

Y, a Greek letter, joined the Latin alphabet after the Romans conquered Greece in the first century – a double agent: consonant and vowel. No one used adverbs before then, and no one was happy.”

Shannon is determined to find out why she was abandoned and who her mother was in order to make sense of her life. Her determination, and the story of her journey to an understanding of her parents and their lives, make  a wonderful read. I think it would be a good read for a young adult moving into adult titles as well.

I particularly like Colum McCann’s praise for Y: “I love ambition in a novel. I love humour, audacity, perseverance, craft. And I am deeply grateful when it gets exquisitely blended in a brand new voice. Marjorie Celona’s debut weaves the twin stories of a foster child’s search for home and the raw account of her mother’s decision to abandon her newborn. Y is an evocative look into what makes a family, and what makes a home, and how they are undeniably helixed together.” (McCann is the author of Let the Great World Spin)

The Murder Stone by Louise Penny

Another comforting Inspector Gamache story with a beautifully calming “I want to go there” setting. The setting at Manoir Bellechasse and the characters of Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache complimented by Chef Veronique and Madame Dubois once again provide a delightful background for the strange, almost  sinister death of one member of the Morrow family who have all gathered at the Manoir. The family itself becomes a study of group dynamics and Armand Gamache’s cerebral crime solving shines to full advantage.  Also includes an interesting side story which fills in Gamache’s family history as well as the anticipated arrival of a new grandchild by his son and daughter-in-law who live in France.  Literary references to Milton’s Paradise Lost and frequent mention of the poem High Flight by a Canadian aviator:

 

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,Murder Stone
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of.

And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

 

Others in this same series include Still Life, The Cruellest Month,
The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead,  A Trick of the Light and, her latest, The Beautiful Mystery.

www.louisepenny.com has more information

 

 

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

 

This is the life journey of Saul Indian Horse named after his grandfather Solomon.  “My people are from the Fish Clan of the northern Ojibway, the Anishinabeg, we call ourselves. We made our home in the territories along the Winnipeg River, where the river opens wide before crossing into Manitoba before it leaves the Lake of the Woods and the rugged spine of northern Ontario.” The story covers roughly the first thirty-five years of Saul’s life: it begins and ends in the New Dawn Centre, a treatment facility.

Indian Horse - CopyThe first 116 pages is an account of his time on the land with his immediate clan members when he absorbs an understanding of his people and establishes his identity. His brother Benjamin is taken by government agents to the residential school but Saul and his sister are hidden from the agents.  Events eventually result in Saul’s being sent to the residential school, St. Jeromes, known by the children there as St. Germs. Saul builds a defense for himself as a quiet, studious boy but he is enticed away from this by the hockey rink and starts out shovelling off the ice at 4:30 every morning. He is small but teaches himself to skate and stick handle. He sees the happenings at the school: “I saw kids die of tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia and broken hearts.” but “what I let them see was a quiet, withdrawn boy, void of feeling.” “Father Leboutilier was my ally.” “There was always the ritual of shovelling the snow and clearing the ice, that solitary work of preparing to open the doors to a magical kingdom.” And up to a point the magical kingdom keeps Saul going.  He is recruited for The Moose, a native team and then he is recruited for the Toronto Marlboros and it is then that life’s cracks begin to change him. This is a story both uplifting and heart breaking and deserves its place as a Canada Reads selection: a story everyone can delight in and learn from and, by reading it, gain a better understanding of the native experience.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

The Story of Plain Kate, daughter of wood carver Piotr Carver, who wants to apprentice to her father in a few years. Her father calls her Kate, My Star.  They live in the town of Samilae, “where people thought there was magic in a knife.Plain_Kate A person who could wield a  knife well was, in their eyes, halfway to a witch. So Plain Kate was very small the first time someone spat at her and crooked their fingers.” Kate wanted to become a full master carver before she was twenty but a sickness came upon the town and Kate’s father dies of it.  This was the year of skara rok, the bad time which was the time of the sickness and starvation.  Kate carved a grave marker for her father and the guild sent another carver to take over her father’s shop and she went and lived in their old market stall. She slept in the bottom drawer of a cupboard her father had carved and she discovered three kittens sleeping in a drawer above her.  One of the three kittens stayed with Kate and she named him Taggle. Kate and Taggle lived from hand to mouth and made do until one summer when “change and magic came loping and waltzing into her life.”  The stranger was an albino who sang and played a tambourine and “moved through the market like a lord.” And so begins a series of more and more frightening adventures for Kate who flees town and joins a band of Roamers where she makes friends with Drina and Daj. Taggle travels with her throughout the book and is a most wonderful companion. For those who like cats this is a great story of a true companion cat. Magic, spells, ghosts and more fill every page of this exciting adventure…..bravo Erin Bow.

February by Lisa Moore

This was a re-read for me: it is one of the selections for Canada Reads in 2013 and I am re-reading for an event on Heavenali’s blog and I really liked this book the first time I read it so…..those are the reasons for re-reading.February - Copy

In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died.  February is the story of Helen O’Mara, one of those left behind when her husband Cal, drowns on the rig.  It begins in the present day, more than twenty-five years later. but spirals back again and again to the “February” that persists in Helen’s mind and heart. (from Goodreads)

The themes here are death, grief, loss, memory and survival. The writing is extremely insightful i.e. amazing wisdom demonstrated by a relatively young writer. Kudos to Lisa Moore. This will be a perennial favourite with me.

Here’s a sample of the work:

“Cal has been dead twenty-six years and she is capable sometimes, for a stretch of time, of forgetting Cal has died. She talks to her daughters every day. She is taken up with the house and her yoga. She sews wedding gowns, a kind of business venture that grew from a hobby.

I’m a young fifty-six, Helen thinks. Her grandchildren need her. She plays bridge. She took up curling but she hated the bloody curling. Her sewing gives her satisfaction.

Helen has mastered lonliness; nobody thinks of her as lonely anymore.”  Page 113

And these thoughts from Helen’s son John:

“The present is always dissolving into the past, he realized long ago. The present dissolves. It gets used up. The past is virulent and ravenous and everything can be devoured in a matter of seconds.

That’s the enigma of the present. The past has already infiltrated it; the past has set up camp, deployed soldiers with toothbrushes to scrub away all the now, and the more you think about it, the faster everything dissolves. There is no present. There was no present. Or, another way to think about it: your life could go on without you.”

This is my favourite Lisa Moore novel but she has written other novels and there is a great short story collection available.