CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 11 . . . .February 4, 2005
I asked George if he thought Alex was getting better. It seems some days he is, but some days he's not. Today was a "not" day. Alex totally ignored George and me. George said it was just a slight setback, but once Alec gets going, his recovery will be quick. It takes a long while to get over the memories of war.
"What was it like in Italy?" I asked.
"Bloody hell," George said. "And I'm not swearing just to hear it. You know I'm not a swearing man. It was bloody hell."
He was quiet a long time. "When I first joined the army I thought it exciting crossing the ocean, seeing new places besides the farm and getting a regular paycheque, too. Ended up we sat around England a long time and that was boring, though I got to see more of the place than a farmer's kid from Saskatchewan probably would ever see."
"I thought the soldiering part would be easy. I've hunted before, knew about rifles and guns. Turned out I was just a farmer's kid. I'm not a soldier. Nor were any of the others over there. I mean, I've seen some bad things on the farm, but nothing like that. Nothing like that," he repeated. "No wonder your brother ended up like he did."
Originally published by Roussan Publishers in 1999, this reissue of Love-Lies-Bleeding has lost none of its poignancy and significance. Haworth-Attard incorporates segments of World War II letters written by her father during his six years of Canadian military service in Europe into the story of a young girl's coming of age. The flower of the title, amaranthus, with its brilliant red, drooping, tassel-like flower heads and huge, brightly-coloured leaves, looks like drops of blood. "War tears apart families, lives and countries and every person war touches has a love lying bleeding, be it on the battlefield, or a broken heart at home," the author writes in "Love-Lies-Bleeding Teachers' & Kids' Resources." With almost daily media reports of the ongoing violence worldwide, the novel reflects humankind's unfortunate appetite for conflict.
The Worm of Jealousy compels 13-year-old Bobby to boast, "I have a diary," in an one-upmanship response to seeing her best friend Betty's birthday presents. "The Worm said it not me," Bobby insists, envying Betty's beautiful home and lovely gifts. Having defiantly proclaimed her lie, she doggedly records her activities and feelings from September 12, 1943 to June 26, 1944 in an "old math notebook," quite unlike Betty's fancy diary with its "gold edged paper" and "a tiny gold key." In her diary, Bobby compiles a list of "most favourite words" for Alex, her beloved 18-year-old brother serving with the Canadian forces in Italy, for whom words "were like paint for an artist" in that "both made pictures."
Bobby's London, Ontario life changes significantly during the dark days of war as family and friends try to cope with loved ones in European danger zones. School life and home life present daily challenges as Bobby struggles to understand the complexities of friendships and family relationships in addition to her maturing body and volatile emotions. The dynamic of an ordinary family unfolds against the background of a world at war in which rationing, bomb drills, knitting scarves and socks for soldiers, packages and letters to loved ones, dreaded telegrams, Victory Bonds, Victory Gardens, Lorne Greene reading the war news, and metal drives are commonplace.
While Bobby, with the help of her friend, Nancy, struggles to understand the mysteries of "how babies are made," her 19-year-old sister becomes pregnant and quietly marries an Australian airman, thereby incurring stern disapproval from the community and her father. Bobby's 16-year-old war-mad brother yearns to enlist, while her "quiet and well-behaved" little brother overcomes his fears by taking the war effort metal drive seriously and sacrificing his beloved toy airplanes, not to mention Mother's pots and pans.
The inevitable much-feared telegram arrives amid Christmas day celebrations forcing the family to face the reality of Uncle Billy's death and wounded Alex's imminent return home. However, this Alex is not Bobby's teasing older brother, but a withdrawn stranger with "empty eyes" suffering "combat exhaustion." "Alex's body may be back from the war, but he's still over there," Bobby concludes. Visiting the hospital and seeing all the wounded men shocks Bobby initially, but, as she watches Nancy interacting and helping them, she gathers her courage and overcomes her aversion to disfigurement enough to befriend one-armed George. Observing the support the recovering men give each other, she realizes that "all they had over there at the war" was "each other. By helping Alex and George, Bobby conquers her own fears. She also finds planting a garden and watching plants grow therapeutic, especially seeing the love-lies-bleeding bush, torn from its bed, reborn. "I think war," she concludes, "is about fragments and pieces bits of home, families, Alex's mind, George's body torn apart and your heart breaking and your love lies bleeding."
Haworth-Attard deftly captures the nuances of human behaviour and effectively brings the historical period alive, painting a portrait rich in details of everyday life. Both preteen/teen and adult readers will empathize with Bobby as she matures from a child to a responsible and appealing teenager through the pages of her diary. The first person format is an effective technique that skillfully blends actions and emotions as Bobby reports and reacts. In the introductory "Author's Note," Haworth-Attard describes her father as an "ordinary man doing extraordinary things." In a convincing manner, her novel captures ordinary people doing extraordinary things during turbulent times.
A collage of black and white photographs and four additional images add authenticity to the well-paced and lively narrative. "Alex's Word List," with the vocabulary italicized throughout the diary, appears at the end of the volume. Author of 10 children's books, several of them nominated for awards, Haworth-Attard not only writes well but provides resources for teachers and children at her homepage, http://www.barbarahaworthattard.com/ including a list of suggested activities for use with Love-Lies-Bleeding.
Darleen Golke is a librarian between assignments living in Abbotsford, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.