CM Archive
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Mary Razzell.
Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 1984.
160pp., paper, $7.95.
ISBN 0-88899-032-4. CIP.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Naslund.

Volume 13 Number 3
1985 May

This thought-provoking and powerful Canadian young adult novel merits attention. It deals with family relationships, with love and sexuality, and with growing up and womanhood.

V.E. Day, May, 1945, was a time of jubilation for all except Agnes Brary. With the return of her husband, the monthly service cheques from which she had so diligently saved to purchase land and a new house, ended. Sixteen-year-old Sheila Brary, the only girl in a family of five, is the object of her mother's frustrations, disappointments, and scorn. Although Sheila is bright and intent upon becoming a nurse, she learns that as a girl, life is unfair. She cannot do and have certain things: girls dare not drink, smoke, or fool around. Nels is her first boyfriend and when she becomes pregnant, she faces alienation, humiliation, and fear.

After unsuccessful attempts to induce a miscarriage by swimming in the icy cold ocean, horseback riding, and imbibing castor oil and gin, Sheila in desperation contacts her father. In Vancouver, he helps her obtain capsules that make her violently ill. Miserable and alone, she returns to the mossy beach trail on Hobson's Landing where after an excruciating afternoon of passing clots of blood, she miscarries the beginning form of a baby boy.

"All along it seemed because it was a problem and not wanted - that it had to be a girl."

Asking no questions, Helga Ness, a neighbouring Norwegian woman, looks after Sheila. Helga's quiet strength embodied in the white sweater she knits for Sheila speaks of hope and survival. Sheila returns to Vancouver, works at a drive-in restaurant, and eventually attends nursing school.

Sheila learns to stand alone and to recognize that she alone will determine who she is and what she is. Nothing in life is simple and no one can be completely understood, neither her mother, her father, nor Nels. The characters are well drawn. Sheila's mother with her sudden shifts in mood and bitter resentments seems cruel but is complex and very human. The snow apples, Helga, and Sheila's brother, Tom, offer enduring love and hope; but their lives are not without struggle.

As a first-person narrative, the novel is very readable. Poetic turns of phrase are used to full advantage; the fetus is described as a "pale bud" and Helga as a "fragile bird." Occasionally, references to songs, singers, movie titles, and the new wonder drug penicillin seem forced in an effort to establish the time period, and there are some awkward shifts in tense. However, this novel should provoke discussion about the choices facing women and about their responsibilities to themselves as people. The relationship between Sheila's parents, between Sheila and her mother, and between Sheila and Nels, raises interesting questions of moral and social responsibility. While the circumstances of Sheila's life are singular, the decisions she faces are basically those every person faces on entering the adult world.

Although consideration of the impact of the subject matter should be taken into account, it compares well to other young adult stories such as A Bird at the Window, Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, and Lives of Girls and Women. It is highly recommended for adolescent readers.

Jo-Anne Naslund, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.
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