Review: Prairie Ostrict – Tamai Kobayashi

2017:60
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.

#20BooksOfSummer

Cross Canada Reading Challenge – Alberta

Review: Baygirl – Heather Smith

2017:47
3 of 5 stars
Published 2010

Kit Ryan lives in an outport fishing village in Newfoundland. She’s 16 and it’s 1992 and life is difficult when your father is an alcoholic. It’s a life of being on an emotional roller coaster, never knowing what kind of drunk your father is today or how he’s going to react to any given statement or situation. Kit has a lifelong best friend and takes refuge with her grandmother often.

But the cod fishing industry is dying and with a government moratorium, Kit’s father can’t work and the family moves to St. John’s to live with Uncle Iggy who’s unemployed himself, sunk into depression and grief. Kit doesn’t fit in at school and things are no better at home. But there is an older Yorkshireman who lives next door who is always ready with a teapot. She does make a friend at school and there’s even a boy that likes her. The problem is, Kit has to learn to accept her father as he is and find a way to trust.

It’s a short novel and doesn’t go very deep into the issues behind the issues other than a brief look into her father’s background near the end. Kit’s got a lot of anger as you might expect and it’s clear that in some ways it holds her back. She spends a lot of energy pushing back against things she has no way of controlling or changing. By the time she begins to reconcile her feelings, it might be too late. There could have been a bit more depth to the story and relationships between Kit and her parents but there’s enough there to tell the story.

The next door neighbour is a bit of a stereotype with plenty of Yorkshire slang and “ee by gum”.  The nice boy dates the school bitch and sees the light pretty quickly. Having Kit around seems to lift Uncle Iggy up and give him a reason to clean himself up and find reasons to want to live his life again. A return to her home village 6 months after leaving finds all her friends changed completely, even her best friend which felt a bit extreme to me. Now she doesn’t fit in at her old home or her new one.

Overall, an ok story but it could have been better. I may not be the generation this book is intended for but that shouldn’t matter. Or maybe it does. I make this sound more negative than I should, I think. I did like it, but I would have liked a bit more of it.

Review: Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant

2017:39
3.5 of 5 stars
Published March 2017

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and enjoyed it. It’s a Young Adult book about a teen, Cameron, who, along with his father have themselves rented out as spare “relatives” for various functions such as weddings and funerals. It’s not a con, they get a proper hourly rate, and they aren’t in it to scam anyone. It’s just an acting job. But when an old woman, Albertina gets her claws into Cameron and a young woman, the enigmatic Raylene, gets involved as well, things get a little crazy and Cameron gets caught up in schemes and adventures.

Cam spends most of his time pretending to be someone else. Raylene has something she’s trying to get her head around and seems to blow hot and cold. Albertina is on a mission and ropes the teens in to help her. It’s a bit of a romp with poor Cam trying to figure out what everyone expects of him.

It was good fun, with characters that are believable and quirky. I really enjoyed the added bonus that it was set in my own city of Halifax, where the author lives so some of the places and streets named were actual ones. I could picture everything so clearly!