Review: Prairie Ostrict – Tamai Kobayashi

5 of 5 stars
Published 2013

The Murakami family are the only Japanese-Canadian family in their area of rural southern Alberta in 1974. They run an ostrich farm and the oldest son, Albert, died in a horrible accident not long before the book opens.  Imogene “Egg” Murakami is a precocious 8 year old who loves to read the dictionary and science books for kids. She is bullied at school and finds solace in the local library.

Her mother drowns her grief in a bottle. Her father isolates his out in the barn with the birds. Her older sister Kathy tries to take on the family responsibilities, and  does take care of Egg at home and rouststhe bullies at school, but spends much of her time with her best friend, Stacey, who is more than just a friend. And Kathy is looking to her own future, hoping to win a basketball scholarship and get away from the past though she hates to leave Egg alone.

Nobody seems to be there to help Egg manage her grief while her family falls apart around her.Nobody speaks about Albert or the accident.  Kathy takes over in the mother role with Egg a lot of the time since their mother is mainly incapable. She would read her bedtime stories but change the endings to happy ones which was always going to backfire badly because Egg is not one to be patronized.

Egg is looking for answers about so much but never quite finds the right questions to ask though she can think of lots of questions in her head. Maybe she’s to blame for everything. Maybe God is, but if there’s a God, why do all these awful things happen? We are shown the world from Egg’s point of view and the author captures the mind and imagination of a smart 8 year old really well. We, the readers, can read between the lines of what Egg observes and sees, things she isn’t old enough to always understand. Yet she can also be very insightful in the way that an innocent child can be. The atmosphere of the early 70s with pop culture references is familiar to me since that’s my era, too though I was a bit older than Egg in the 70s.

I loved this book and I loved poor little Egg, struggling to get through each day, in a grieving family, often being beaten up by the bullies, dreaming of fitting in instead of being marked as different. This is a debut novel and it’s insightful, touching, heartbreaking, with a hopeful ending.


Cross Canada Reading Challenge – Alberta


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