________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 13. . . .November 27, 2009.


Young Renny.

Mazo de la Roche.
Toronto, Dundurn Press, 1940/2009.
278 pp., pbk., $24.99.
ISBN 978-1-55488-410-0.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by J. Lynn Fraser.




Mazo de la Roche books are Canada’s answer to the Bronté sisters, substituting Southern Ontario Gothic melodrama for wind swept moors. Family drama, illegitimate children and social (im)propriety, lying and confessions, class barriers and money issues are a staple in the author’s works.

     Like the Bronté’s work, the world of nature as well as architecture figure prominently as symbolic representations of freedom, power and control. Like the works of well known mystery author P.D. James, this author’s works focus on a sense of place and the actions that are inspired by that place.

     Jalna, the family home where several generations of de la Roche’s characters have lived in her 16 books about the family, is both a symbol of support and control in the books: “The locks of Jalna,” she returned, “are not to be taken on and off” (p.156) and “It was a poor quality place, she thought, compared to Jalna, lacking Jalna’s dignity and fine arrogant chimneys.” (p.183)

     Young Renny is a classic example of the author’s oeuvre and, for that reason, restricts the number of young readers who would be interested in the book or the series. The language is often old fashioned, and the descriptions of individuals are sometimes racist and sexist. In contrast, the author’s descriptions and love of nature are often gently poetic:

The young grass and unfolding bracken fronds had taken on an unearthly green, while the trees, still caught in the sunlight, glistened and quivered in the light breeze. (p.22)

     For a young reader, the book offers the opportunity to look at a way of life that no longer exists. The intricacies of the story offer an opportunity for the young reader to learn to follow multiple characters’ storylines. Read in conjunction with the Bronté sisters’ works, the “Jalna” series is an opportunity to study the Gothic novel in its various forms.

Recommended with reservations.

J. Lynn Fraser, a freelance writer whose articles appear in national and international magazines, is also the author of a nonfiction book for children. She is currently writing a fiction book for adults and a nonfiction children’s book.

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

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