CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 10 . . . . January 4, 2007
Catherine Goodwin's first contemporary novel for young adults deals with the complexities of moving away. Thirteen-year-old Marcie Chisholm must return to her former home of Montreal, and drag some skeletons out of her closet in the process. With her father busy on a work assignment, Marcie is awkwardly thrust into the home of her "former best friend" and back into the neighbourhood where her mother was tragically killed. By sheer happenstance, a homeless woman named Renee helps Marcie heal some old wounds and finally regain a sense of belonging. A surprise ending brings a mysterious twist to this realistic novel.
Marcie, along with most of the children in the novel, all hover around the ages of 13 or 14. Fortunately for the parents in Seeking Shelter, these young characters seem strangely unaffected by raging hormones or rebellious impulses. While Daniella Creiff, Marcie's former friend, is plagued by mild selfishness, the rest of the young teens are surprisingly well-behaved and well-spoken. School teachers may find these characters a welcome change from the gritty sort that sometimes populate young adult fare. Despite the fact that the characters are in their early teens, this book is well-suited to the middle grades. Female readers will especially relate to Goodwin's portrayal of the "former best friend." No doubt, Goodwin's experience as a teacher has provided plenty of valuable observation time since she perfectly captures the awkward dynamic between old friends. She describes the distance between Marcie and Daniella with complete accuracy and does not offer a contrived explanation for the falling out. Like most young readers will verify, young friendships often fall apart for no reason and can cause immense anxiety.
While many of the situations in Seeking Shelter are not particularly original, Goodwin brings a sense of freshness to her work. The death of a parent is a common motif in children's literature, and Goodwin deals with the situation with a healthy balance of sentimentality and realism. When Marcie feels emotional about her mother's death, she is comforted by Daniella's mother, Mrs. Creiff. On the other hand, Mr. Creiff is a realistically boorish fellow who favours his business reputation over helping Montreal's less fortunate population.
However, Goodwin's biggest success is her portrayal of Renee, a drunken homeless woman Marcie meets in a neighbourhood bus shelter. Goodwin does not sugarcoat her description of the unfortunate woman; she portrays Renee’s encounters with police and her wandering through the mall food court in search of scraps, reeking of alcohol and dirt. Children in large urban settings will be able to identify with much of Marcie's inexplicable curiosity and attraction to Renee:
The only perplexing element of the novel is its cover illustration. Marcie is pictured hugging her violin case, eyes downcast and pensive. In truth, most of Marcie's free time is spent with her swim team, and the violin only makes three, very brief appearances. Unfortunately, this cover may turn off male readers who would rather not read about a girl and her violin. Since Catherine Goodwin's novel deals with universally appealing themes like loss, making friends, and homelessness, a different cover would do the novel justice and possibly extend its readership. This is a truly excellent text for novel study in the middle grades and particularly valuable for teachers looking for a realistic portrayal of homelessness.
Seeking Shelter has been selected as a Recommended Resource Listing by the Calgary Board of Education.
Shannon Ozirny is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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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.