________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 41 . . . . June 24, 2011


Signs of Martha.

Sarah Raymond.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2011.
173 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-926531-09-0.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Myra Junyk.

**½ /4



It's like I was biking full speed ahead to my golden destination and someone knocked me into the ditch. Dazed, I stare at the cement floor. "My dad wouldn't sit for an honest portrait." My voice feels thick and slow. "Or my mother. Or my sister, come to think of it, or Bernie. No one is willing." No one in greater Putnam can help me become an artist, either. I need someone. I needed Velvet. She could have been the one to guide me in making a gigantic stack of paintings for art college. But she's too miserable to help herself. I slump back in my stool.

"Are you willing?" Velvet's voice slices into me.

"What? To be honest?"


"Sure, I guess," I say, my voice shaky.

Martha wants to be an artist; however, this possibility seems very remote. At age 16, she spends her summer picking pickles with Bernie on the neighbouring farm. Martha's boyfriend, John, has purchased a farm and plans to marry her when the time is right. He even proposes. Unfortunately, Martha has other plans. She wants to create a portfolio and apply to art college. When a stranger named Velvet moves into the area, Martha discovers that Velvet is an artist who paints innovative signs. Martha starts working with Velvet and decides to put on an art show of her own signs which tell the brutal truth about the people of Putnam. How will they be received? What lessons will Martha learn from her "honest" art display?

      Readers who appreciate art will definitely enjoy this novel. Martha wants to express herself through her art, but she has very few outlets. Velvet Rudder, the sign painter who moves into the area, provides Martha with someone to talk to about her art. Martha is eager to work with Velvet: "Could she lead me into the world of art and artists?"

      This is Sarah Raymond's first novel. She is currently living in Toronto where she works as a teacher; however, she grew up in Perth County, ON, where this story is set. The novel is short and accessible for many readers. However, the narrative is at times confusing. Does Martha really want to be an artist, or does she want to marry her boyfriend John? The novel explores several themes, including self-knowledge, artistic expression, sexuality, parent-child relationships, honesty vs. responsibility, career choices and motivational speakers. Martha is highly critical of her own family. Her sister marries a Mennonite, and Martha ridicules her religious beliefs, calling her a "Mennonite-by-choice." Martha also ridicules her father's motivational seminar business. Her scornful art display of text-based signs derides the entire community. However, in the end, she learns a powerful lesson. She realizes she must keep painting "honest messages, but ones that take more opinions into account than mine."


Myra Junyk, who lives in Toronto, ON, is a literacy advocate and author.

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

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