________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 29 . . . . April 1, 2011


Mother Number Zero.

Marjolijn Hof. Translated by Johanna H. Prins & Johanna W. Prins.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2011.
179 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-079-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55498-078-9 (hc.).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Michelle Superle.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



"But what did you talk about?" I asked.

"About you," my mother said. "About how we can help you best. And about us. About how we feel."

"How do you feel?"

"We're doing just fine," my father said.

"That's not an answer," my mother said. "Of course Fay's curious."

She put a hand on my shoulder. "We have to think about what will happen and what we need to do too. Jos is helping us."

"That's why it's meaningful to have a conversation like that," my father said.

"Did you talk about Bing too?" I asked.

"Yes," my mother said with some hesitation. "About the best way we can help her."

I had gone looking for mother number zero and now everybody needed help. That's what it boiled down to. Everything got more complicated and bigger, and that didn't make sense somehow. That's not what I had wanted.

Mother Number Zero by Marjolijn Hof (translated by Johanna H. Prins and Johanna W. Prins) is an accessible, empathetic novel about adoption best suited to 9- to 12-year-old readers. Just as Fay is graduating from elementary school and preparing for the transition to middle school, he meets Maud, a new neighbor. Maud changes everything by asking questions about his adoption, causing Fay to re-think his life. In particular, he wonders about his adopted status and what role his biological mother, who was a Bosnian war refugee and whom he calls "mother number zero," could potentially play in his life. When he decides to try to locate mother number zero, Fay is unprepared for the ripple-effect this single decision will have on his family, his sense of self, and his understanding of his place in the world.

      With searing understatement, Hof subtly explores the deepest mysteries of belonging, identity, and family bonds in prose so clean it shines. Characters are quirky and finely drawn, the plot progresses smoothly, and the symbolism is so perfect that its presence is almost unnoticeable. This minimalist work demonstrates the best qualities of contemporary children's fiction emerging in Europe. Canadian readers are privileged that Groundwood has opted to translate and distribute the work here.

      It is difficult to say whether this beautiful novel will find a home in classrooms as a curriculum-based book, due to its subject matter, which does still hold something of a stigma and is still considered sensitive material in our society. Nevertheless, it should, as it is both a work of art and a useful pedagogical and therapeutic tool. If it cannot find a place in classrooms, then it must find a place in libraries, and ideally on the short-list of as many national and provincial awards as possible.

Highly Recommended.

Michelle Superle earned her MA in children's literature from UBC and her PhD in children's literature from Newcastle University (UK). A children's author, herself, she has also taught children's literature, creative writing, and composition courses at several Canadian universities. She currently teaches writing courses at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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