CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 20. . . .January 28th, 2010.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press/Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2010.
335 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grosse Ile (Montmagny, Quebec)-History-Juvenile fiction.
Immigrant children-Ontario-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
**** / 4
I dawdle the length of the ship to the hatch. The last one down the wooden steps. I glance back for one more look at the sky, the twinkling sky framed by the hatchway's darkness. Da used to take me to the top of the hill on nights like this, when the fishhook moon hangs from a net of stars. 'Tis as if he is standing here next to me now. "Don't be afraid of the dark, pet. For that's when the stars shine brightest."
My glimmer of hope is like that, too. I told it tight. For without it, I'd be utterly lost.
Readers of Caroline Pignat's novel Greener Grass, which won the Governor-General's Literary Award, will be thrilled to continue the story of Kit Byrne and Mick O'Toole as they leave the famine of Ireland and head for Upper Canada.
The first section of the book takes place on board the Erin where Kit experiences the desperation which comes with six or more weeks as a steerage passenger. Pignat's descriptions help readers imagine the incredible sights and smells and sounds below decks on the ship and help readers understand the panic when a passenger dies with the fever and has to be buried at sea. Like all immigrants of 1847, Kit's first port of call in America is Grosse Ile, the island east of Quebec City which served as a quarantine station. Here, she hopes to find the rest of her family so they can be together once again. Eventually, she locates her brother Jack in one of the tents only to be told her mother has died of typhus and her sister Annie has been taken to an orphanage in Bytown. Jack, himself, chooses to take a job working as a farm labourer in summer and as a logger in winter rather than stay with Kit. Desperate for help, Kit asks Mick to go with Jack and take care of him, not understanding that Mick loves her and only accepts the task because of his feelings for her.
The second half of the novel is focussed on Bytown where Kit's adventures continue as she finds her sister Annie and hopes to find work to support them both. Thanks to Saint Raphael House, a home for girls, and the care and kindness of Mother Bruyere and the sisters who work with her, Kit is able to establish a reasonably normal life, helping the sisters as they attempt to care for the struggling inhabitants of Lowertown. Kit even considers becoming a nun until fate intervenes once more.
One of the best ways to approach leaning history is to read a well-written and carefully researched historical novel. Pignat brings to life an era in pre-Confederation Canadian history through this tale of Irish immigrants while also keeping readers in suspense as Kit's life moves from one adventure to the next and as Kit's enemies from Ireland follow her all the way to Upper Canada. Woven throughout the story as well is the love story of Kit and Mick and the theme of devotion to family. This theme of family and reunion echoes throughout the book yet is balanced by the idea that truly loving someone means giving them the freedom to follow the path of their own choosing.
Despite the obvious lifestyle differences, young adults will relate to Kit. Her persistence, her emotions, her bravery and her common sense are all characteristics for which any generation strives. Pignat has continued Kit's story with both empathy and enthusiasm and leaves readers satisfied yet yearning to remain with Kit and Mick as their new life in Bytown begins. The wild geese may well have come home to stay, but readers will hope that the story doesn't end there and that Pignat will add to the series and continue to delight her fans.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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