________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 22 . . . . February 12, 2010



PJ Reece.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2009.
199 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-01-2.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***½ /4


"I'm sure your mother has reason to be unhappy with me," he said.

"On a good day she's unhappy." I said. "You don't really want to know about her bad days."

"Ye be sure to tell her that her voodoo spells have found their mark."

"Well, Grandfather," I said, "you could have showed up once in a while, you know."

I was treading as softly as I could.

"She could have answered my letters," he fired back.

"Letters? I never heard about any letters."

"Of course there were letters, fer goodness sake, gerl."

"You mean letters with stamps on them? Letters in the mail?"

"What other kind are there?"

"I swear, Grandfather, there were no letters."

He seemed sincerely surprised, but not as stunned as I was, so we both sat there silently baking in the sun.

"Well, what did you write about?" I asked.

He set the flipper down. "What does a father say?" he said. "Simple things. Isn't it the thought that counts? Staying in touch. A bit of extra money. A pressed leaf, funny stories, people I met, books I published. And, of course, many times, I asked her to come. To come here and live with me."

My brain pounded behind eyes that stung with sweat.

"What are you saying?" I said. "There were no letters."


Almost 18-year-old Roxy travels from her home in Vancouver to visit her grandfather Jim in the small village of Afionas in Corfu, Greece, because she and her mother, Maddy, have been notified through his lawyer that he is dying. Maddy, irritated beyond belief because her father dumped her on his cold unsympathetic sister, Gretchen, when her mother died in childbirth, cannot bring herself to visit, but Roxy is thrilled and overwhelmed by the idea of connecting with her long lost family. Also, she has just found out that she is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, and she needs to think it through before she involves her mother. What could be better than a trip to Greece? Once in Afionas, Roxy finds her grandfather quite recovered and planning to marry Danda, the local school teacher who worries that Jim, who is a famous author, will collapse from writing his memoirs. Roxy meets deliciously handsome Georgio and settles into the hot sun, azure blue sea and high cliff tops of Corfu, pleased to know Jim's long time friend and companion, Oscar Hartmann, and his busy lawyer, Mr. Mousaki. In spite of everyone holding on to their secret knowledge about Jim and his life, bit by bit, she worms the family story out of her Scottish grandfather, ultimately discovering that her grandmother Roxana, a native of Shangri-La, Kashmir, is still alive, having had to give up her baby and return home to become a midwife, under pressure from her family and community. As Maddy goes through Gretchen's estate and papers, she finds that the spiteful, put-upon Gretchen has kept Jim's letters from his daughter and granddaughter. Once she knows the truth, Roxy arranges for her mother to come to Greece, and she later takes her to Kashmir to meet her own mother.

     Roxy is a delightful character, self-deprecating, full of common sense and determination. She longs for a normal family and weaves connections between herself and her grandmother, both pregnant at the same age. Roxy loves plants and falls in love with her grandfather's espaliered apricot tree, an icon of Kashmir where all the young girls cultivate one as a marriage tree. She oozes into the story of Odysseus, tying him and his long voyage to her family. She decides to keep her baby and to stay in Greece, possibly with Georgio. Grandfather Jim is a typical, tight Scot, skilfully hiding his wife's desertion and holding in his sorrow over his daughter and granddaughter's rejection. Georgio's sexy delight in life, fishing and food lighten the mood, while Oscar and Mr. Mousaki's devotion to Jim make Roxy realize that they have been Jim's family over the years. Mr. Mousaki even provides the priest with a fake death certificate for Roxana so the wedding can commence.

     The setting for this book is electric, full of colour, sweet smells, heat and dizzying heights. The themes of reuniting family, carrying on family traditions, creating another generation and holding in secrets spring out at the reader, provoking not only laughter but also deep thought and sighs of contentment. The epithet on Oscar's tombstone (The hungry heart leads home) says it all.

     In spite of an awkward, unattractive cover, high school girls, in particular, will love Roxy's story and admire her fierce determination to create a family.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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