CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 10. . . .November 9, 2012
Sid was taken from his negligent mother when he was two-years-old. Since then, he has lived on a small island off the coast of BC with loving and caring foster parents, Megan and Caleb. Now, at 16, Sid is a devoted artist. He has a close friend in neighbouring Chloe, but it's summer holiday now, and he fears he may be on his way to becoming an obsessive-compulsive hermit. He "knows better than to get attached to any of the other kids [Megan and Caleb take in]" after Tobin, a favourite housemate of five years, moved away just six months before the story starts. Despite this, Sid eventually befriends Caleb and Megan's latest foster child, eight-year-old frightened and silent Fariza. One day a stranger, Phil, shows up and tells Sid that he's a friend of Sid's birthmother. Sid learns that his birthmother has disappeared, and that he has a 13-year-old half-brother, Wain, who has been missing for a week. Phil challenges Sid to get involved. Sid has no interest in meeting his birthmother, but decides he'll go to Victoria with Phil to meet Elizabeth, his birthmother's mother, and to help, somehow, to find Wain. It's an interesting and upsetting journey for Sid. His new grandmother is a wonderful surprise: Elizabeth is well-educated, well-read, and well-known on TV and the internet from commercials featuring "The Gray Matter Granny." Sid learns that his birthmother is a talented artist who needs medication to control her bi-polar disorder, and that Wain is well on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. Sid proves resourceful and manages to find his hurt and angry half-brother. The boys' mother has not yet returned, so Sid – who misses Megan, Caleb, and Chloe – invites Wain and their grandmother to live at his home until his birthmother shows up. At Sid's place, Elizabeth fits in perfectly, but Wain is a "jerk" whose company Sid does not enjoy. Megan says that Wain is lonely and, while it's true that he's a jerk, he isn't all of the time. Sid eventually meets his birthmother in Victoria, and all concerned agree that Wain will spend the rest of his summer holiday at Sid's home. And, by the end of Three Little Words, Fariza – Megan and Caleb's current foster child – is speaking.
Sarah Harvey's Three Little Words is a finely crafted, thought-provoking, and hopeful look into the reality of neglect, mental illness, abuse, and abandonment. Each chapter title in the novel consists of three little words, such as "Have a Heart," "Make My Day," "No Such Luck" and "When Pigs Fly." At the start of the novel, Fariza's limited vocabulary consists of "please," "thank you", and the first words that she shares with her entire foster family are "corn is good." That said, this reader believes the title ultimately refers to those most important three little words, "I love you." Though never stated in the novel, their significance is implied throughout.
Harvey brings the two BC islands to life, deftly weaving settings into her character development. For instance, at the beginning of the story, Sid is preoccupied with drawing his comic about Billy, a poor boy, shunned by all in his village. During his trip to Victoria to help find Wain, for the first time ever, Sid "wants to record [by drawing] everything he has seen [that] day: Enid in her Geisha costume, Milo's battered face, the sign at the drop in centre, the sailboat gliding under the raised bridge." Ripple Rock, located north of Campbell River and mentioned a number of times, serves as a metaphor for the theme, what lies beneath surface appearances. Sid tells Elizabeth, "Whenever we go through the narrows, Caleb always says He's still down there, like the rock's a giant or a monster, but, to be honest, there's not much to see. It's way below the surface now, even at low tide."
Central characters – Wain, Phil, Chloe, Fariza, Caleb, and Megan – are unique and convincing, as are the peripheral characters. Sid is intelligent, interesting, and likeable. He is also incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to baby-boomer music. Chloe calls him "a musical dinosaur." Another time, Wain says, "Trust you to know all the words to that dumb hippy song. What are you … sixty?" Sid can also sing songs from The Mikado and is familiar with the Bloomsbury Group, thanks to Megan's book club. And Sid is thoughtful. For instance, when he's on a ferry with Elizabeth, his hang-gliding Gray Matter Granny, he thinks, "The last thing they need is for Elizabeth to fall and break a hip." At times, Sid's general knowledge, maturity, and empathy are so impressive for his age that this reader both sensed the voice of the author and found her credulity pushed a little too far.
Readers of Three Little Words will be sure to relate to some of the characters and circumstances in this touching story.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer of children's stories.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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.