TAKING CARE OF ALABAMA
Volume 21 Number 5
Thirteen-year-old Dara Donnelly has been hospitalized for counselling and observation after a series of fainting spells. In the hospital there are daily routines, concerned staff and a new friend, Marianne. Here Dara feels safe - as long as no one mentions the prospect of going home. A trial visit home during the March break results in Dara's running away and re-admitting herself to the hospital.
In the first of two flashbacks, the story shifts to the southern United States fourteen years earlier. In this episode, Dara's mother Mary Louise - nicknamed "Alabama" by Thomas Donnelly, a charming and handsome Nova Scotian - finds herself pregnant, married and transplanted to Halifax. All is not well in the Donnelly family, however; Thomas' charm disguises a streak of cruelty, and Alabama succumbs to frequent depressions. More pieces of Dara's family puzzle fall into place during a second flashback, which takes the reader further back into Dara's childhood. In the final section of the novel, the young protagonist must make a painful decision to ensure her survival.
Unfortunately, the suspense that Morantz has successfully built up falls flat in the last chapter, and the ending, overburdened with symbolism, is unlikely to be appreciated by adolescent readers. Although Morantz's characters are, for the most part, sensitively and realistically portrayed, their full development is hampered by the brevity and four-part structure of the book.
Despite these drawbacks, young readers should find Dara an appealing heroine and be eager to discover how her story will turn out. The novel would be a good choice for grade 8 and 9 literature circles in which books on teens coping with dysfunctional families are being read and discussed.
Valerie Nielsen is a teacher-librarian at Acadia Junior High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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