CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 23. . . .February 19, 2010
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2010.
153 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Farm life-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Karen Boyd.
"I don't like children who speak out of turn," she said.
"Ellie knows her manners." Daddy insisted. "Don't you Ellie?"
"Yes, sir." I knew I had to say it, to show that I really did have good manners and such because, like Daddy just said, there was nowhere else for me to go. But I sure wished I could have just up and said what I really thought, which wasn't nearly as mannerly.
"And you have nowhere else to go?" Grandma said.
"Nowhere," Daddy repeated. His voice was tired and quiet.
She stood up, so we did too. She looked at me for a long minute and then back at my father. She almost smiled.
"No," She said.
Ellie knows as soon as she pulls up to her grandmother's house that "this wasn't a house that wanted me." Ellie's father has lost his job at the mill and has taken a temporary job selling pots and pans, a job that requires him to travel across the prairies. Ellie's maternal grandmother's house is the only place for her to go. Throughout the hot, dry prairie summer, Ellie struggles with her own feelings of abandonment. She discovers that her grandmother and uncle are also dealing with similar pain. Ellie's mother abandoned her family to marry her father and was cut off from her parents. Uncle Roger carries the scars of a fire on his face and the life changing decisions that came from those scars. Lonely, Ellie rescues and befriends a magpie who becomes her only confidant. The magpie, Sammy, also helps Ellie to learn a lesson about love that saves her from repeating her grandmother's mistakes.
Tumbleweed Skies greatest strength is the variety and depth of the characters. While some of the characters are difficult to like, Sherrard does an excellent job of helping readers to understand those characters. Ellie's grandmother has allowed life to make her bitter and hard. Throughout the story, readers are given glimpses of whom she might have been if life had turned out differently. Readers also discover the regrets that she lives with and how that affects her relationship with Ellie. In contrast to Ellie's grandmother, Uncle Roger is able to stay positive and kind even when life has given him enough reasons to be angry. Roger is the voice of reason with both Ellie and Grandma. His perspective on life brings some peace to the conflicted household. The most one-dimensional character is Ellie's new "friend" Marcy. Marcy's life is seemingly unmarred by the challenges that Ellie has faced. Sherrard's use of this character suggests that it is Ellie's adversity that makes her the strong person that she is.
Set on the Canadian prairies in the 1950s, Tumbleweed Skies uses character and setting to illustrate the isolation of this family and also the strengths. Forgoing a clean, happy ending, the book concludes with continuing complexity but a feeling of hopefulness that healing will occur.
Tumbleweed Skies is accessible to younger readers and yet doesn't shy away from complex issues of life choices, difficult circumstances, and uneasy relationships. It lends itself to good discussions about character development and motivation.
Karen Boyd, a graduate student in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba, also teaches in the Bachelor of Education program.
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