________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 13 . . . . November 27, 2015


The Finding Place.

Julie Hartley.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2015.
244 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-533-2.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Kris Rothstein.

*** /4



"That's Dad's money," I said.

"Kelly, it isn't –"

"That money is Dad's. He saved up for every one of those swords. It took him years and years to collect them all. You know it did. That's Dad's money."

Mom's eyes met mine. "And while he was spending money on his toys, all those years, who do you think paid the bills?" she said. "Who do you think pays them now?"

I grabbed my coat off the floor. I was trembling so much I could hardly get my arms in it.

"I don't care. It's still stealing."

"You're being ridiculous."

"It is, Mom. You're stealing from Dad. You always tell me to do the right thing. That money belongs to Dad. It's not yours."

"Kelly, calm down. When you get angry you say and do things –"

"You know what I think?" I stopped struggling with my coast and looked at her. "I think we should wait until Dad tells us where he is, then I'll take the check to him myself. And maybe I'll stay. Because I want to be with my dad."

This was something I'd been dreaming of for weeks, but it still felt terrible, like a betrayal, speaking the thought out loud. There was part of me that wanted to take the words back as soon as said them. But it also felt good to finally get this out in the open.

Mom said nothing. She had two fingers of each hand pressed hard against her temples.

I moved into the hallway and pulled on my boots, leaning back against the bare wall where the swords used to hang.

"I'm going out," I shouted. "To the library, then to Raizel's. I'll make my own way home."

Mom slid her head into her hands, using the tips of her fingers to massage both her temples. That's why it was a struggle to hear what she was saying. Because she was speaking down into the table.

"If you keep on talking to me like this, Kelly, there are going to be consequences."

For Mom, actions always had consequences. For Dad, consequences never existed.

Kelly was abandoned as a baby in China and adopted soon after by a Canadian couple. Now 13, she is spirited and rebellious and still reeling after the father she idolizes unexpectedly left her and her mother. Kelly has little compassion for her mom who struggles to make ends meet and look after Kelly; the two clash frequently. What she likes most is drawing and creating a graphic novel with her best friend. She often snoops in her mom's email and is shocked when she discovers that her mother has secretly planned a trip for them to China. Kelly does Tai Chi and studies Mandarin, but she has little interest in her roots or the family that abandoned her; however her mom is insistent about the trip. Kelly is lost, she says, and this voyage might help her deal with her anger.

      Many things happen on the trip to China. Kelly's mom's chronic headaches get worse which allows Kelly to frequently sneak out on her own. She ends up attempting to contact her birth parents but decides she isn't ready to meet them. She helps convince another Canadian woman to adopt a child even though the baby is sick. She takes charge when her mom needs emergency surgery. And she discovers the secrets inside her own family, that her father has abandoned the family for a new wife and daughter in Vancouver.

      I could not help but compare this book to the fabulous 2011 American documentary film Somewhere Between which explores the same subject of Chinese born girls raised in North America. It brought the complexity of the stories of girls caught between two cultures so richly and vividly to life. It did include several stories, instead of just one, which allowed for a wider scope, but regardless, the fascinating and touching stories of Somewhere Between illustrate that truth can often be more fascinating than fiction. Author Julie Hartley could have brought a little more of the multifaceted wonder and confusion that was so compelling in the film to The Finding Place.

      One of the great strengths of this novel is that Kelly can be such a little brat. Authors are often afraid to make their characters unlikeable, and this is even more true of characters who are children. Kids, in reality, can be a huge pain, especially at 13. Hartley is honest in showing how reckless and inconsiderate Kelly can be, while still retaining a deep affection for her. What Hartley does exceptionally well is to create the atmosphere and context so that readers can understand why Kelly is acting out and what is troubling her. (The disappearance of her father is the biggest issue, but she has never gotten along very well with her mom, and she bristles when people assume she is Chinese or point out that she looks different.) However, Hartley also grounds the book in real scenarios where readers can see that Kelly is wrong to think and act as she does. She feels victimized, but readers can see that just the opposite is true. Many novels set up a situation in which it appears that everyone is out to get the main character. In this story, readers understand that Kelly often feels this way about her mom, but readers also see how hard Kelly's mom is trying to hold the family together. Kelly blames her mother for driving her father away. She thinks her mom is selfish and a liar, and readers feel her frustration while still seeing from the beginning that her father is the selfish one. This ability to balance perspectives is what gives the narrative its power.

      The plot, itself, is fairly obvious and even a little clunky at times. The story runs on revelations and secrets, with Kelly going off on her own or snooping to make discoveries, or bugging her mom until these come to light. This became rather tedious after a while. While Kelly does mature and come to understand her mother's dilemma, there isn't a huge amount of character development. Some details of the book, including the sudden need for brain surgery, seemed rather contrived. It seemed unlikely that the severity of Kelly's mom's headaches would not have been checked out in Toronto. Regardless, it is clear that these "minor" headaches will be a plot device to disrupt the trip in some way.

      The book uses the story of a journey to China to probe relationships between parents and children, to consider the topic of adoption and to delve into the possibilities for cross cultural understanding. Kelly's interactions are not that revealing, but Hartley does try to find ways to have her engage with the local population. The settings in Toronto and in various parts of China are all well drawn. China is different, but it isn't presented as exotic or alien.

      I recommend this book for its exploration of mother/daughter relationships more than for the issue of adoption, international or otherwise. While it is a timely issue, this angle isn't as sophisticated or compelling as it could be, showing signs of research rather than inspiration. The characters are well rounded and very realistic. While this isn't the most insightful book about tracking down your roots, The Finding Place is very readable and has good dialogue and a very lively first person narration. Readers will certainly learn something even though it might not be what they expected.


Kris Rothstein is a children's book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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