CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 1. . . .September 2, 2011
Farmed Out. (Orca Currents).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
119 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc).
ISBN 978-1-55469-910-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55469-911-7 (hc.).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Jocelyn Reekie.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
We were outside the goat shed, standing in three inches of stinky mud. About twenty goats surrounded us, bleating and chewing. …
Klaus handed each of us a shovel. "First you will muck out the shed."
What kind of a torture chamber was this place? Mucking out a goat shed?
"You do it like so," he said, skimming his shovel over the floor to scoop up hard round goat poops. "Then you dump it over the side for composting later." He turned the shovel over and tapped it on the open side of the shed. The little poops plopped into a pile.
I looked down at my beloved Andy Warhol T-shirt. It already had a streak of mud on it.
Then I felt a tug on my skirt. A brown and white goat had a mouthful of black ruffles.
"Ack, no!" I exclaimed, trying to pry the skirt out of its mouth. I got it out, but a big chunk had ripped off. The goat scampered away, spraying muck all over my legs.
"I told you not to bring those clothes," my mom said, in that way mothers are so good at.
In her second novel, Christy Goerzen takes young readers into a familiar battle: 15-year old Madison Turner is determined to establish her own life; her mother is just as determined to keep her daughter as close as possible. The battleground for this coming of age novel is set on an organic farm in the interior of British Columbia, where readers witness the fight through Maddie's eyes and the novel's subplot takes shape.
Maddie is an artist with big dreams. She wants to go from her tenth-floor apartment home in Vancouver, BC, to New York, where she will be able to visit art galleries galore and breathe in the inspiration the galleries and the city can provide for her to do great work. She knows her single mother, who is a bookkeeper by necessity and a New Age zealot by desire, cannot afford to take her. But Maddie's found a way to get there herself. Her favorite art magazine is holding a portrait painting contest with the first prize being an all-expense paid trip to the Big Apple, including passes to all the art galleries in town. The deadline for entries is only eight days away, but, for Maddie, that's plenty of time. "…I do my best work at the last minute," she tells readers. However, Maddie's mother has a different plan. Without consulting Maddie, she has signed them both up for yet another in what Maddie considers a string of boring mother-daughter "Summer Adventures." This year, it's volunteering at an organic farm where they'll be required to do four hours of chores a day. And surprise, they leave two days from now—which leaves Maddie with no time to even begin her contest entry sketch. Plus, they'll be gone a week! Maddie crosses her arms in defiance and argues, but it does her no good. Perhaps, her mother says, she'll find inspiration on the farm. Hot tears of fury and frustration scald Maddie's cheeks. She's convinced the only thing she's going to breathe in on an isolated farm in BC's Okanagan is the disgusting stink of barnyard poop. There's no chance at all there will be anything in a place like that to inspire a winning drawing. Her dream is crushed.
To make matters worse, if that was possible, Maddie's mother announces their arrival at the farm by crashing into a pot full of flowers as she ploughs to a stop in front of the porch where the owners are seated, and the only person on the farm who is Maddie's age appears to hate her at first sight. As far as Maddie's concerned, this experience is a nightmare she can't escape, and it will only get worse.
While Maddie's mother is a stereotypical, over-the-top outrageous character who has no understanding of anything, Maddie is an energetic protagonist young readers will readily identify with and want to follow through her ordeal. They will understand Maddie's anger at being pulled from her own life into her mother's chaotic world, wilt with her as she witnesses her mother's escalating faux pas, and they feel Maddie's angst when she comes up against the final decision she makes on the farm.
Readers will also relate to Anna, the other 15-year-old on the farm, and to the realistic relationship between the two girls. While some details are unnecessarily repetitious (such as Maddie's crossed arms), the details of a first-time-farm experience seen through Maddie's eyes are diverse and completely genuine, and Goerzen succeeds in adding depth to an otherwise predictable mother-daughter breakaway story with a subplot that takes Maddie into a world that is more complex than what she imagined New York city would be and one which ultimately lifts her out of herself.
Jocelyn Reekie, a writer, painter and publisher, lives in Campbell River, BC.
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