CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008
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.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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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.