________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008


The Saver.

Edeet Ravel.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.
214 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $17.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-883-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-882-8 (hc.).

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading copy.



Hi Xanoth,

OK, I know you argent real. I'm not a psycho or anything.

But I like thinking about you. I like thinking about your violet eyes and how beautiful your planet is. I love how it's so clean and perfect, there isn't even a word for garbage in your language.

I've been thinking about you since the year after I had Mrs. Johnston. I had her in grade four, when I was ten. Then in grade five everything went back to being messed up. I didn't even see Mrs. Johnston in the hall, because she retired right after I had her.

So starting in grade five, to keep myself awake in class and to help me fall asleep at night, I began thinking about you. By now I know a million things about your reality - your glass dome houses, the swan gardens, your job as a pilot flying people from place to place, and how everything is free on your planet. And you can eat whatever you want, because the food is made with special ingredients that argent fattening but taste exactly the same, only better.

Anyhow, I'm writing to you now because down here on Earth my mom died.


When Fern arrives home from school one unremarkable November day, she is completely unprepared for the news that her nosy neighbour springs upon her: that her mother was taken by ambulance to the Montreal General after falling on the stairs. Feeling more than a little ill, she makes her way to the hospital where only sadness awaits her. Her mother is dead, and now 17-year-old Fern is all alone in the world with no friends, no family (with the exception of an uncle whom she's never met in Winnipeg) and no visible means of support. Right away, she decides to quit school, get a job and find a way to make it on her own. In fact, she wants to do more than just survive she wants to make for herself a better life than the hardscrabble existence that was her mother's lot. As she considers her situation she recalls one of her grade school teachers saying that, if a person never spent any money, they could make a million dollars in fifteen years. With that as a goal, she reasons that what she needs to do is find a job as a live-in janitor so that she can live there rent-free and then get a second job at a restaurant where she will ideally be able to get all, or most, of her food for free as well. With a naive but steely determination, she sets out to put this plan into action.

     Fern's story unfolds as a series of letters that she writes to an imaginary friend named Xanoth who is from an idyllic planet that is seemingly free of the trials and sufferings that are so much a part of life on Earth. Fern invented this friend a number of years earlier and writes faithfully to him/her with updates on the events in her life. Through these letters, she also expresses her yearnings for how things might be different in her world as she compares Xanoth's perfect world to her own. Also through the course of this "correspondence," readers learn more about Fern and her mother's past, how her mother had a troubled childhood and later worked as a cleaning lady to eke out a meager living for her and her daughter, and how Fern has never known her father. We also discover that, in a fit of sullen rage, Fern had lashed out at her mother before leaving for school on that fateful November morning, and that now she is also dealing with the guilt of knowing that the last words she had ever spoken to her mother were "just leave me alone." A picture of their life together emerges, depicting a life of poverty and struggle. It is not hard to see why Fern is so anxious to create a brighter future for herself. And she does take slow, careful steps in that direction, carving out a humble place for herself in the world, forming tentative connections with people and seeing a different side of herself emerge.

      In her latest young adult offering, author Edeet Ravel creates a compelling tale of a teen girl making it on her own. In spite of the grim realities of Fern's existence, the story never feels too dark or overwrought, and it is a welcome respite from the grittier novels that portray harsh stories of teen life on the streets. Fern, herself, is such a pragmatic character that readers never feel overwhelmed by the weight of her loss or the challenges she faces. Rather, there is a hopeful air to the story, a sense that while she may not necessarily ever become a millionaire, things will still work out alright for her. As Fern describes her daily doings, she creates a believable picture of the people and places in her life, from the vivid personalities who live in the building she gets hired to care for to the people she works with at her various jobs. Her matter-of-fact delivery prevents her story from feeling angst-ridden but also creates an image of the squalid urban setting that is her home. When her story concludes with her saying "I probably won't have much time to write, Xanoth. There's a lot going on now in my life, and I need to concentrate on Earth and the people here. They need me and I need them," readers will feel satisfied that although things argent perfect in her life, Fern is on her way towards happiness and healing.


Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.

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

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