CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007
Lois Donovan’s love for Nova Scotia and the history of the Acadians is clear in this novel. Her heroine, 16-year-old Sarah White, comes from Toronto to spend a summer in Nova Scotia with her grandparents. Sarah accidentally ends up transported back in time to 1755, just before the deportation of the Acadians. Through her friendships with Anne LeBlanc (in the past) and Luke Herbert (in the present), she tries to find a way to help the Acadians. By doing this, she learns the true value of history, roots and friendship, and inevitably blossoms into a more worldly young adult.
Donovan’s choice to make Sarah rather spoiled and disinterested at the beginning meets with limited success. This portrayal allows the reader to watch her character improve and grow, but the material and vain aspects are too well established, and it takes a long time to gain any empathy for Sarah. The choice also means that Sarah’s initial reactions to the sad fate of the Acadians seem melodramatic and disingenuous.
The historical aspect of the fiction also meets with mixed success. The way the history is first introduced reads a bit too much like a lecture instead of being an integrated part of the story. There is also an assumption that the reader has some basic knowledge of the Acadians, and so she text skips over some boring but important parts. I am not demanding this be a part of the full text, but, as Acadian history is unfortunately not a consistent part of school syllabuses, an author’s note at the end would serve the reader well.
Another central part of this story is the usually sticky issue of time travel. Time travel is hard to pull off successfully, especially in historical fiction novels, as the rest of the text is constructed in the framework of reality. My rule of thumb is to judge the success by how well it holds up to its own rules. Donovan’s devices here are interesting but not fully successful. She hints at the magic of time travel in a number of things: in the wind, on the dykes and in a quill box. Sarah also has flashes back to the past without any material objects, such as, for example, when she is knocked unconscious on a boat. This brings up interesting questions of whether there may be a personal or even past life connection to enable Sarah to travel in.
When Sarah travels back in time fully for the first time, it is the quill box that emerges as the star device. I have a couple of problems with the quill box, partly because it takes her back to a time before it existed, and she has to wait until it is created to use it to return to the future. Donovan continues to raise poignant hints to the wind and the personal importance of Sarah herself, so the reader would do well to accept the allusions to something unknown or unrevealed in time travel. These allusions add an air of magic to the time travel devices, but they are also important because the quill box is unsuccessful on its own.
This novel continues better than it begins. The beginning stutters along, wavering between some strange word choices and some absurd attempts to weave in the history which read rather like an instruction manual. But, like the character of Sarah, this book improves as it develops, succeeding most when Sarah and Luke are well entrenched in the action of the past and in their attempts to help the Acadians as best they can. Tie-ins at the end fit a little too neatly but are nonetheless thought-provoking.
I think Donovan is successful in providing a taster to history because one is left wanting to know more about the Acadians. One dusts off a copy of Evangeline from the library (Longfellow’s epic love poem about Acadian lovers separated in the deportation and their life long quest to find each other) and reads: “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks… . ”
Winds of L’Acadie is badly begun but better continued. It provides a taste of Acadian history, but it is the richness of this history, itself, rather than the richness of the book that resonates. It is a story that should be told, but it has been told before, and it has been told better.
Recommended with reservations.
Laura Dodwell-Groves is a Master of Children’s Literature student at the University of British Columbia.
Winds of L’Acadie has also been reviewed in Vol 14, Number 3.
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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.