CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 7. . . .October 16, 2015
Published as part of the ďOrca CurrentsĒ series of high-interest novels with contemporary themes for reluctant readers, Lois Petersonís short, yet effective, novel Three Good Things offers middle school readers a glimpse into the experience of having a family member struggle with mental illness.
Woken up in darkness and told to pack up her things by an emotionally unstable mother, Leni Bishop is begrudgingly moved from her current living space into a car and the cold unknown of the night. The reason: Leniís mom believes she has won the lottery requiring the two of them to lay low as attention and acclaim are sure to follow Ė at least in her mind. Through first person narrative, readers come to learn this erratic scenario of late night moves is one that has played out many times before. In fact, mother and daughter have lived in so many different places in the last few years that the story of the winning lottery ticket is readily dismissed as Leniís intuition tells her itís yet another figment of her motherís frantic imagination.
Often finding physical and emotional sanctuary in a local public library, Leni use pictures from house and home magazines to create a scrapbook building an imaginary safe haven of normalcy and stability. It is here in the library that she meets an unexpected friend. At first introduction, Jake is a little bit odd with a ferret hidden in his jacket and an admission of having 31 different pets at home. The almost immediate invitation to meet this menagerie of lost and found animals at his home is indeed awkward, but Jake is the first person to reach out in genuine kindness despite the obvious air of distress Leni unwillingly emits at all turns. In the short time frame of their friendship, Leni learns to finds some good amongst the disaster and eventually tears her protective personal walls down enough to admit her difficult circumstance. This, in conjunction with a frightening accident, puts the wheels in motion for a much needed resolution to Leniís life on the run.
Although the mystery of the lottery ticket is resolved in the end, the cause and diagnosis of Leniís motherís mental health concerns remain unknown. This is a recurrent feeling readers are sure to experience throughout novel. Readers will want to know more about these characters and their struggles as readers are more often than not provided with only a two dimensional sense of who the characters are and why they act the way the do. The only exception is the character of Grand Ė Leniís grandfather. A distant voice known only on the phone throughout most of the novel, Grand comes into focus as the story climaxes, and he is forced to reveal important family history to Leni. With a somewhat stunted ending, hope is offered through suggestion that better things are on the way for Leni as she moves forward towards a healthier and more stable family situation.
Like many fiction titles focussing on mental health issues, Three Good Things plays a role in breaking down barriers and starting up conversations around the topic. By providing insight into the adolescent mind of a young girl dealing with the reality of her only parentís declining mental health, this novel offers a brief, but authentic, portrayal of the exhausting efforts we often make to retain space for our own difficult emotions while simultaneously trying to take care of another. Although the Three Good Things offers readers only brief and sometimes shallow gazes into Leniís life, the story is to be commended for providing a safe place for readers to explore the issue of mental health and build empathy towards others whose full story we often do not know.
Amy Westbury is a teacher-librarian at Bruce Trail Public School in Milton, ON.
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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.