CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008
Ellen's Book of Life.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.
204 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $17.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-860-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-853-8 (hc).
Mothers daughters-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ruth Sands.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
My dearest Ellen,
One day you will want to find your birth mother. These letters will help you find her. I'm sure she will be happy to meet you. I hope you will get to know each other and be good friends. Don't be afraid. A person can have many friends and brothers and sisters but only one mother, and I will always be your real mother. Nothing will ever change that. You've been a wonderful daughter. Love always, Mum
I didn't want to find my birth mother. Mum was my mother and I didn't want another one. I thought about how she always listened when I told her about Spotz. I asked her if you could meet a boy you liked at my age and then never meet anyone you liked as well for the whole rest of your life. Mum thought very seriously for awhile. Then she told me about how she met Dad and they decided to get married, and I started to cheer up. Then I thought about all the things I hadn't done for her. How I sometimes forgot all about changing the water in the vases in her room. Sometimes I went in and all the flowers were dead and dried up, and after I threw them out I didn't put fresh ones in the vases for days. And I remembered the table outside her room that was empty the day I left for Toronto. The flowers had been in her room all night filling the air with carbon dioxide. After a while, I put the letter back in the drawer and locked it. Then I went outside and walked back to the waterfront, where the tide was starting to turn.
Ellen's Book of Life, by Joan Givner, is the fourth installment of the Ellen Fremedon series. In this book, Ellen's school year ends with her winning the provincial public-speaking competition even though she argues with the judge who mocks the way Ellen is dressed. Then her much anticipated summer vacation is cut short when her mother passes away from her long illness. The grieving Ellen gets a further shock when she finds a letter in amongst her mother's belongings which will lead Ellen to her birth mother. With the help of her father, Ellen reaches out to her birth mother, who turns out to be the judge from the public-speaking contest, and she discovers an entire family and religious background she didn't know she had. As Ellen explores her Jewish background, she gets closer to her grandmother and her great-grandfather. Eventually Ellen comes to accept her mother's death and accept that people can have many loving people in their lives.
Givner does an amazing job of portraying a grieving family in this novel. From Ellen who shuns her best friend because she is hurting so much, to the young twins who really don't understand what is going on, to her father who has just shut down from the grief; each character resonates with true feeling. Ellen's later interactions with her birth family and her eventual healing are beautifully handled so there is never a moment of dishonesty in the writing. Givner's characters are so real that the reader will have no problem identifying with them
The book is also rich with story. So many things happen to Ellen, but the pace of the novel and the progression of events are easy to handle. The reader is drawn in at the very first page with Ellen's unexpected entry into the public-speaking competition and is carried along as Ellen learns of her mother's death and starts the grieving process, and that is just the beginning of the whirlwind of emotions and action. For young readers, especially those who may be dealing with a loss of their own, this book will really resonate. With characters and story details that are honest and appealing, Ellen's Book of Life is a book that is a much recommended read.
Ruth Sands is a freelance writer from Vancouver, BC.
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