________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 3. . . .September 17, 2010


Somewhere in Blue.

Gillian Cummings.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2010.
336 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-897550-84-7.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Naomi Hamer.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



The blue of her bedroom began to soothe her. Her father had painted the room a couple of years ago based on a small color chip that, to Sandy’s eye, had seemed rather pale and lifeless. She’d grown to love the color, and these last few weeks she’d stared at the watery walls, their calm pooling like a glassy pond around her. The surface would break and she would slip in, no ripple left on top. Sinking down into the pleasingly muffled depths, she found her way closer to him. She hadn’t told anyone, but he appeared, literally showed up next to her and started talking. Like on the park bench the other day when the leopard lady had purred past. She just had to be open to it.

In her debut novel, Somewhere in Blue, Gillian Cummings charts the tensions between mothers and daughters in the wake of loss, depression, and broken relationships. While a third person narrator alternates between the perspectives of four women, two mothers and two daughters, the story centres around 16-year-old Sandy, who is struggling to come to terms with her father’s death and her disconnected relationship with her mother. While Sandy and her father were kindred spirits of sorts, she was never able to connect with her mother, Vivian. In the absence of her father, the distinctions between mother and daughter push them even further apart, particularly as Vivian tries to move on with her life after her husband’s death while her daughter falls into a deep depression. Sandy’s best friend, Lennie, and her mother, Teresa, form the other dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship in the novel. As Lennie tries to deal with her best friend’s depression, she also attempts to confront the difficulties she has with her single mother, who has a habit of bringing home random, often drunk, men from bars and supermarkets. The discovery of hidden family history later in the novel only increases the tension between these women.

     The strength of this novel lies in the nuanced and believable depiction of the awkward silences and angry outbursts between Sandy and Vivian. Through this central relationship, Cummings deftly captures the conflicts that may arise within families as different individuals deal in their own ways with grief and mourning. The narrative is often meditative in tone and effectively captures the intensity of Sandy’s experience. Significantly, the east end of Toronto, particularly the Beaches area, provides a backdrop to Sandy’s experience of loss, as the details of the neighbourhood are interwoven with her memories of her father. The description of the neighborhood from Sandy’s perspective incorporates smaller detailed memories of “the Korean grocery where her father would buy fragrant jasmine rice and his preferred soy sauce” to her observations from the boardwalk of the building he helped create:“[e]ast of the downtown core, it could blend into the taller buildings-the light and the distance watered all the colors to gray-but its peak was what made it distinctive. There was a pass through, a bell tower without the bell. That was how she recognized her dad in the skyline” . Cummings’ eloquent prose is a strength of this novel; however, the explicit theme of ‘blue’ seems a bit contrived in comparison to the more subtle weaving of imagery in terms of relationships.

      Although the narrative takes on the perspectives of both mothers and daughters, Sandy’s perspective is the one most vividly and believably described. While the mother-daughter relationships are depicted in a realistic fashion, the adult characters in the novel are not as richly described and, as a result, are less complex. Although the narrator often takes on Vivian’s perspective of Sandy, the narrative provides little information of Vivian’s perspective of her own relationship with her husband until almost the end of the novel. It may have been stronger for the narrative to reveal a glimpse of Sandy’s father as a lacking husband from Vivian’s perspective to nuance the rose-tinted memories of Sandy. Similarly, while at moments we follow Teresa’s experience, her character is predominantly viewed through the eyes of her critical daughter. As a result, Teresa’s character only moves slightly beyond cliché as a tough, working-class single mom who gave up her dreams of performing in Nashville to raise her daughter in Toronto. The romantic relationship between Dan and Sandy also lacks the depth of the other central relationships. Dan is described as Sandy’s neighbour and friend for her whole life. Nevertheless, the detailed knowledge they would inevitably hold about each other is only hinted at, and their dialogue does not reveal the evolution of their relationship from a friendship. Their interactions remain primarily at the level of light banter in the midst of an otherwise intense novel.

     Despite these inconsistencies, Somewhere in Blue presents a thoughtful and multi-layered meditation on families and loss. The representation of both adult and teenaged perspectives is still unusual for the young adult genre, and Cummings strongly captures the intricacies of various relationships in the wake of grief and depression.

     Gillian Cummings emigrated from Scotland at a young age and grew up in Toronto. She has edited and written for various magazines including Canadian Living, Style at Home and the London Free Press. The manuscript for this novel was singled out by Governor General's Literary Award-winner Tim Wynne-Jones for an award of distinction at the Humber School for Writers.


Naomi Hamer is a lecturer in the area of Young People’s Texts and Cultures in the Department of English, University of Winnipeg. She is close to completion of her PhD on the texts and literacies of tween girls at the Institute of Education, University of London, UK. She also has an MA in Children Literature from the University of British Columbia and has worked extensively as a drama and creative writing instructor with children in schools, libraries and recreational programs.

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