CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 23. . . .February 18, 2011
The Glory Wind.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2010.
222 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Interpersonal relations-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.
Review by Beth Maddigan.
I wanted to answer her, to say something that would let her know she wasn't going to prance onto my property and start acting like the boss, but my head felt kind of befuddled. After a few seconds, and doubtless emboldened by my silence, Gracie put her hands on her hips. I watched her in fascinated confusion, wondering what might come out of her next.
"My daddy was a war hero," she said.
It was the last thing I might have expected and yet I don't recall being particularly surprised.
"Is that so?" I said.
"Of course it is!" Her right hand left its hip long enough to wag a finger at me. "He died fighting for his country."
I agreed that would make him a hero. And I hoped she wouldn't ask about my father and what he'd been doing during the war.
Luckily, Gracie was busy with her own thoughts.
"He doted on me." She thrust her head forward and shook it. "See this? My daddy loved my curly hair."
I offered a sort of grunt in reply, so as not to be rude. It seemed to be enough for her, for she went on after a quick pause to shove the curly-hair-her-daddy-had-loved back away from her face.
"I'm eleven now!" she declared next. "I had my birthday in June. It was just a few weeks ago, on the 22nd. I got a cake with a balloon tied to it and a new pair of patent leather shoes. My mother bought them for me at Eaton's Department store in Winnipeg. It's the biggest, grandest store you ever did see."
"I've been there hundreds of times, "I said. Actually, I'd been there twice.
Books, like people, can grow on you as you get to know them better. They start out likeable enough, but you recognize there is more to them than meets the eye - something deeper, powerful even. This is one of those books. It begins with a story of friendship for a pair of 11-year-olds on the Canadian prairies in 1946. But, as you read, it weaves itself into a deep narrative rooted in prejudice and loyalty, small-mindedness and courage, tragedy and joy.
Luke is living on his family farm and trying to fill the void of summer when he meets Gracie. The pair becomes friends, and their connection becomes tightly fastened when Luke's mother takes on the job of minding Gracie while Gracie's mother is at work. Gracie, in her disarming and endearing way, introduces Luke to imaginative pursuits. Luke, in his steadfast, reliable manner, shares Gracie with his closest allies. Luke and Gracie work through some difficult rites of passage in a friendship between a preteen boy and girl: how to act in school; how to deal with parents; and how to enjoy each other's company without letting the realities of daily life crowd out the connection. The friendship is challenged when the town learns that Gracie's mother has a less-than-pristine reputation. Gracie has to deal with the derision of her classmates, and Luke is called to stand in her defence. The bullying and torment increase when their teacher, Miss Prutko, is dismissed for not ostracizing Gracie in her classroom. While the situation would be unbearable for most children, Gracie has an inner strength and determination that is matched only by her effervescent spirit and enthusiasm.
Valerie Sherrard is an accomplished writer, and I would count this title among her best work to date. The reason the story grows on the reader is that Sherrard has made use of a set of powerful motifs – the tornado, both figurative and literal; the narration of an innocent, loyal young man; and a beautifully painted, unique desk. The story allows each of these tools to unfold and grow in importance, richness and pace. The tornado is introduced at the beginning of part one and established as an important character in this novel. More and more of its nature is revealed as the reader continues more deeply into the narrative. It eventually becomes both a metaphor for life and a tragic literal character that catches the reader off-guard, despite the fact that there was plenty of warning that it was on its way. Reading this novel through Luke's eyes allows the reader both the benefit of jarring intense first-person narrative and the advantage of an observer's eye-view because, sometimes, Luke is along for the ride in his deepening roller-coaster friendship with the effervescent Gracie. Finally, the desk is an element that unassumedly anchors the novel, one of those small things that have profound meaning. Painted white with a pink cushion, the desk was admired by all the girls in the class, but it was Gracie who was allowed to sit in it. Miss Prutko took a stand against the way the girls were shunning Gracie by giving her something that would allow her to stand apart in a positive light. The desk is eventually removed, as is Miss Prutko, but their quiet return is a satisfying conclusion to their part in the story.
The desk serves as a symbol of power and inner-strength, but it is Luke who shines a light on the powerful way girls can use words and social status to turn on one of their own. It is a chilling look at how enamoured children can be with a newcomer in one moment and how thoroughly they can turn on her in the very next. Luke bears the wrath of being Gracie's friend, especially when he decides to take a stand and protect her. But, even Luke can see that boys at his age don't seem to put the same emphasis on the emotional side of relationships. The boys eventually tire of working on leaving him out, and he is reinstated. But, it is not that straightforward for Gracie. In the misguided and prejudiced way of the time, Raedine bears the tarnish of being a single mother to Gracie. As the town dismisses Raedine for her purportedly unChristian behaviour, the girls turn on her daughter in a scathing parroting of the terrible slurs they are likely hearing at home about Gracie's mother. This portrayal of the cruel and envy-driven nature of preteen social life is perfect for its time, but it also transcends into our contemporary society riddled with bullying and ostracization.
Sherrard uses foreshadowing in this novel with particularly impactful skill. There are several instances where an innocently planted seed later grows into an impressive, unwielding force. But there is one scene that plays over and over in Luke's mind that also leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Gracie, in her delightful way, personifies the dizzying effects of confusion – twirling and pirouetting down the road. When she loses her footing and falls into the mucky slush, she turns to Luke with a demanding innocence and asks, "Why didn't you try to catch me?" This poignant preamble to the coming tragedy is one of those snapshots left in a mind's eye of a powerful tiny moment.
The Glory Wind is a haunting book with strong, difficult themes. The powerful nature of the unfolding narrative is elegantly written and masterfully told. A very worthwhile read for mature children and all young adults.
Beth Maddigan is a children's librarian and instructor in St. John's, NL.
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