CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 8 . . . . December 14, 2001
The story of Persephone - a childhood spent in the company of a loving mother, her subsequent abduction, rape, escape from her captor, and the re-emergence of a stronger, more powerful self - is used to structure this collection of poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction. During the writing of her M. Ed. thesis, teacher Valerie Pawluk, focused on the ways in which young women are "silenced," preventing them from acting or behaving so that they are confident and empowered. In her research process, she corresponded with five young women (14-16 year olds) attending high school in Edmonton. The depth of the emotion and insight in their correspondence impressed her - they were anything but silent - and upon the completion of her degree, Pawluk decided to compile an anthology of writing by young women. The focus would be writings about times when they felt either powerless or empowered; the goal, aside from artistic expression, would be to show others how they could support young women in their struggle to develop into confident and strong individuals.
Persephone's Sisters is divided into five sections - Exploring Possibilities, Powerless, Searching, Emerging, and Empowered - each of which is prefaced by an account of a different stage in the story of Persephone. The poems and stories chosen for each section have thematic links to the episodes of Persephone's life. Persephone personifies change and growth through the death of a former self; many of the contributors to this collection tell stories of a similar transformation, through circumstances not only challenging, but occasionally, frightening. Growth can be painful, and even triumphant accounts carry a sub-text of mixed emotion. Some of the writing is strong, original, and fresh. In other cases, such as that of the 15-year-old author of "Prostitution - The Game" (88-90), the authenticity of the story overcomes weaknesses in its telling. And, the reader does have to remember that the contributors are between the ages of 13 and 18.
Valerie Pawluk has put enormous effort into the creation of this anthology, giving voice to the young women she identifies as Persephone's sisters, emerging from darkness into power, confident and willing to tell their stories. The collection is an exemplar to other young writers, encouraging them to write and work at their craft. However, I am not certain that the book accomplishes Pawluk's stated goal of providing adults with direction and guidance in supporting the growth of young women. Finding a curricular fit for this book is not easy, either, although Persephone's Sisters can offer students in creative writing classes some good examples of work by their contemporaries. It might also be interesting supplemental reading for high schools offering women's studies courses. As anthologies of this type typically don't draw a heavy readership in high school libraries, I hesitate to recommend it for literature collections. Some of the stories are disturbing, and the language can be graphic. Still, Persephone's Sisters: Young Women Write is a unique collection; consider your collection needs before acquiring.
Recommended with reservations.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.