CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
Harley's Gift. (Streetlights).
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2007.
122 pp., pbk., $8.95.
Mothers and daughters-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Karen Rankin.
"I don't think Mom's giving me a Christmas present this year," I said.
Naomi and I were listening to the Maddie McDermott CD at her place on Tuesday after school. I'd heard three of the songs on the radio, but the rest were new to me.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Naomi. "Of course she'll get you a present."
"Usually she asks me for ideas in November. Next Monday is Christmas and she hasn't said a word about it yet."
"Maybe she'll go shopping at the last minute."
"Mom's way too organized. She doesn't leave anything to the last minute." I'd been thinking about Mom's phone call with Aunt Heather. She didn't spend money on anything that wasn't necessary. I could think of only one thing that she couldn't afford, and that she'd be upset about – Christmas presents.
"Well, you have to look."
"Look at what?"
"Snoop. Haven't you ever snooped for a present?"
I didn't answer. Naomi gasped. "You've never snooped for a Christmas present? I can't believe it! Now's the time. You gotta rip your house apart until you find it!"
Eleven-year-old Harley lives with her 28-year-old mother in Toronto. Harley helps with everything from grocery shopping to meal preparation. Next to her mom, Harley's favourite relative is Grandma. Unfortunately, Harley's mom and her mother do not get along well. This year, Harley's number one Christmas wish is for her mom and Grandma to be friends. Harley knows that is highly unlikely unless she figures out a way to make it happen. After overhearing a snippet of conversation between her mom and Aunt Heather, Harley decides that her mom cannot afford a gift for her this year. Harley's best friend, Naomi, convinces her to search the house. Harley finds a gift, but it's from Grandma, and it's already been beautifully wrapped. When Harley unwraps it for a peek, she rips the wrapping paper. The only way to fix it is to take the package back to the store from which it came.
Naomi and Harley skip school to get the gift rewrapped downtown. They are almost finished in the store when one of Grandma's friends comes in and recognizes Harley. Sure enough, Grandma hears about it. When she talks to Harley about 'snooping' and skipping school, Harley learns a bit about the problem between her mom and Grandma. While helping decorate Grandma's Christmas tree, Harley gleans even more about the two women's relationship.
In the meantime, Harley's mom has announced that she's going back to school. She hopes to get a better job. Harley is not happy about this since it will mean that she'll be home alone more often. As Christmas approaches, Harley decides to make her wish come true. She invites Grandma for Christmas dinner and then convinces her mother to go along with her plan. Although the dinner does not go as envisioned, Harley does manage to get her mother and grandmother to stop arguing and start talking.
While the plot of Beth Pollock's first novel may sound somewhat simple, it moves along at a good pace, has some nice surprises, and leaves the reader feeling satisfied. Pollock also subtly conveys a number of messages pertinent to all readers, such as the importance of respect for individuals regardless of their circumstances and the problem with prejudice. At times, Harley's Gift would benefit from a few more details concerning setting. However, protagonist Harley is well-rounded and believable. She is frustrated occasionally by her mother and disgruntled with her father whom she sees once a year around Christmas. She enjoys the company of her friend, Naomi. They laugh together, listen to music, do crafts and play games. Harley is also stalwart, sensitive, and caring. She stops to speak with beggars and gives one of them her precious winter gloves. She is used to participating in grocery shopping and meal preparation as well as wearing second-hand clothes. On the whole, Pollock does a good job of keeping the reader in close touch with Harley's feelings throughout the novel. Naomi, Harley's mother, grandmother, and father are also rounded and credible characters.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer of children's stories.
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