CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 15. . . .December 10, 2010
What My Father Gave Me: Daughters Speak.
Melanie Little, ed.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2010.
129 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-254-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-255-3 (hc.).
Fathers and daughters-Juvenile literature.
Daughters-Family relationships-Juvenile literature.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Chris Laurie.
Sometimes, when she is feeling particularly jittery, Cathy imagines that she is already dead. Dead, disembodied, and incredibly, incredibly relieved. From up in heaven (which in her imagination is about as high as a branch in a big willow tree), she looks down at her grieving, horrified family, knowing that her hideous secret (whatever it is) is finally out. How sad they feel, how much they wish they had helped her! Oh why, they ask themselves, did this have to happen?
To many teenagers, parents can be a source of frustration. Seven brave authors have bared their souls in this collection, allowing us into their real-life experiences with their fathers. Here we meet fathers who are absent, flawed, addictive, saviours, and more. Each story is powerful in its own way; some are joyful and inspirational, most can be difficult, some are deeply disturbing, and they are all true.
Author and recently appointed senior Canadian fiction editor at Anansi Press, Melanie Little has collected deeply moving stories from authors Lisa Moore, Susan Olding, Saleema Nawaz, Cathy Stonehouse, Shannon McFerran, and Jessica Raya. By pulling back the blinds, they allow us to see their joys and struggles with, and despite of, their fathers.
In "Thirteen Answers for Alateen," Olding gives an insider's answers to questions adapted from an Alateen brochure. Her responses provide readers with insight into how cycles of behaviour can continue from parent to child, often without anyone noticing it, until it's too late.
Particularly effective is Stonehouse's "Truth, Dare, Kiss, Command, or Promise: Fragments from a Life." This brave narration from the perspective of one of her personality 'fragments' gives us an unnerving example of how the smiling and brave face of a child can hide the nightmare that their home life has become. Here, we read the story of friendly and cheerful Cathy, narrated by a darker, tortured version of herself. We begin to see that one cannot survive without the other and why.
The collection closes with Raya's "How to Make Ice and Other Things My Stepfather Taught Me," an uplifting story of how her family finally stumbles upon a father figure that helps each of them begin to heal wounds inflicted from earlier ones.
As difficult as some of these true stories are to read, we are reminded that they have also contributed to the creation of these talented, now mature, authors. And it is a joy and an honour to read their stories. Strongly written and compelling, they will connect teen readers with the author's experiences, will help them gain insight into other youth who may having similar experiences, and possibly come to better understand their own feelings. Teens will see themselves in some of these stories, and, for the most part, they will be thankful that they have the fathers that they do.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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