________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 38 . . . . June 4, 2010


Counting on Hope.

Sylvia Olsen.
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis, 2009.
299 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-55039-173-2.

Subject Headings:
Coast Salish Indians-Juvenile fiction.
British Columbia-History-1849-1871-Juvenile fiction.

Grade 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Ruth Sands.

**** /4


Before long we had inched our way close enough to each other that we were standing shoulder to shoulder, picking berries from the same bush. I turned my head, and we were eye to eye. This time neither one of us looked away.

I gazed with amazement into the girl’s black eyes. It wasn’t so much the look of her eyes that made me shudder; it was how intensely she stared. Never before had eyes so dark been fixed so exactly on me for such a long time, and all the while I did not see her blink. Then her eyes softened and her lips turned up in the creases. I smiled in return. She picked a berry and tossed it into her mouth. I did the same.

“Mmmm,” I said.

“Ahhh,” she said.

She picked another berry and put it in her basket.

I found one and put it in my basket.

“Ahhh,” the girl said.




I pointed to myself and said, “Hope.”

The girl looked confused.

I did it again. “Hope.”

She pointed her finger at me. “Huuuupe?”

“Yes, yes, Hope,” I said excitedly.

“Huuuupe,” the girl said again.

She pressed her fingers against my cheek.
She patted her chest and said, “Letia.”

“Lah teee ahhh?” I said.

“Letia.” She patted her head and chest.

“Letia. Letia.”

“Lah teee ahhh!”

She took my hands and lifted them into the air. She kicked her feet in a dancing motion and laughed. “Huuuupe. Huuuupe!”

“Lah teee ahhh. Lah tee ahhh,” I said. We moved in a circle, lifting our knees and laughing aloud.

. . .

The girl lifted her head,
her hat fell back
and I looked again into her face.
Her eyes were bluer than the Man’s.
She spoke like a chirping bird. I said,
although I knew I had no right
to welcome them to our berry patch.
She chirped again, and I said,
“Your hat is very beautiful,”
although the strings under her chin
looked very uncomfortable.

We picked berries
Until the ripe berries were gone.
I told her my name.
“Letia,” I said. And she told me her name,
Hope, the word got stuck behind my teeth.


Set in 1862, Sylvia Olsen’s Counting on Hope is the story of Hope Richardson; a young girl who moves, with her family, from England to the newly settled British Columbia and of Letia, a young girl of the Lamalcha people.

     Hope’s family receives the deed for an island of the coast of BC, and they set out to make a new home for themselves on Wallace Island. The island is paradise to Hope and her father, but it is terrifying to the rest of the family as it is also the summer camp of Letia and her family. Things may have been fine if not for the interference of the whiskey traders, Mr. Haws and Old Man Albert. They have been traveling to the settled islands and are bringing horrible tales of murders perpetrated by the Indians. The stories convince Hope’s mother of the danger of the First Nations people and ruin the happiness the family might have found on the island. Mr. Haws and old Man Albert manage to convince Mrs. Richardson that her family is in imminent danger, and she pushes her husband to abandon the home they have built on the island for the safety of a costal town. While her mother and sister are terrified of the Indians, Hope is merely fascinated. She has been forbidden to visit the Indian camp, but she does manage to find a way to by-pass her mother’s orders by making contact with an Indian girl while picking berries.

     Letia is under similar restrictions by her own family. Her mother has had dreams which warn the people of the danger of associating with the Hwunitum ‘white people’ and has made her people promise to limit their contact. The Lamalcha people have no problem with Hope’s father as he seems only to be making a home for his family and wishes to cause them no harm. Letia has lost her sister and best friend to smallpox and is looking for a friend when she comes across Hope picking berries. The two girls manage to become friends despite the language barrier and the restrictions from their respective families.

     Letia’s family is also having problems with the whiskey traders. Some of their men are trading for alcohol, and it is having a bad effect on them. The rumours have also made it difficult for some of their people to move amongst the settlers, and the talk of fighting is stirring up trouble for the Lamalcha people. As tragedy strikes both Hope’s family and Letia’s people, the girls find a way to stay friends and to take up the reins of their families. Hope must be strong for her family and take charge of their future.

     Sylvia Olsen has brought to life the events of early BC history is this beautifully crafted tale that is loosely based on true events. By using free verse for Letia’s parts in the story contrasted against Hope’s use of prose, Olsen has given each girl a remarkably unique voice. Through Hope, the reader is shown how the settlers were given parcels of land by the Crown. British Columbia was an English colony and was settled as such. Times were tough as the newcomers built homesteads and towns on land they saw as theirs, but they also saw as threatened by the Indian presence. The reality of the situation is revealed in Latia’s story. The use of free verse is a wonderful tool to show the different point-of-view of the First Nations people. Through Letia, the reader learns how the People saw the arrival of the settlers and how they didn’t understand what it meant to their way of life. They initially believed they could be generous enough to allow the settlers to share their land, not realizing that the newcomers were not looking to share anything. In the end, hard lessons were learned by both people, but none so bad as the destruction delivered to the Lamalcha people.

     My only criticism of the novel is the flow of time. It is, at times, hard to line up events in the girls’ lives. The novel starts with both Hope and Letia in 1859 and then jumps forward to 1862 for Hope. We are treated to a longer span of time for Letia before she finally catches up to Hope. Towards the end of the novel, it is Letia who jumps to the future, and we lose track of where her story connects with Hope’s. As the reader, I found that I had to occasionally turn back to the start of the chapter to remind myself where we were time-wise. Letia’s narrative also moves back and forth in time as she recalls different events whereas Hope’s is very linear. Fortunately, Olsen is so good at her craft that this is a very small issue in the novel.

     Counting on Hope is a wonderful and poignant tale that will do an excellent job of introducing children to some of British Columbia’s early history.

Highly Recommended.

Ruth Sands is a freelance writer from Vancouver, BC.

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

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.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.