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