________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIIII Number 2. . . .September 14, 2012


One Year in Coal Harbour.

Polly Horvath.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2012.
216 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $14.95 (hc), $12.95 (epub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-188-5 (trade pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55498-310-0 (epub).

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Todd Kyle.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.



“I won’t live with you,” yelled Ked. “I’m done!” “You got no choice, boy, and neither do I. They’re gonna make me take you. I’m the only family you got. Who else would want you?”

Uncle Jack stood up. “I would,” he said.

Kate, whose hands had been on her belly throughout this, like she was covering the unborn baby’s ears, stood too. “We would.”

Them my dad stood up. This meant sliding out of the booth. “I would too.”

My mother looked bemused for a moment, as it probably occurred to her that we only had two small bedrooms, but she stood too and said, “Yes, he’s ours.”


Twelve year old Primrose, the sensitive heroine of Horvath’s novel Everything on a Waffle, is back! In One Year in Cold Harbour she recounts her involvement in a very eventful year in the life of her fictional Vancouver Island fishing village. The plots of her efforts to marry her Uncle Jack to Kate Bowzer (she of the all waffle restaurant), the mysterious return of Miss Bowzer’s highschool boyfriend Dan, the town’s agony over plans to log its mountain, and the efforts of aristocratic former resident Miss Honeycut to build a statue and park in honour of her late father, interweave themselves with the main plot involving Ked, a foster child who moves in with Primrose’s friends, Bert and Evie (her own foster parents while her mother and father were missing in Waffle). Ked and Primrose become fast friends before he is whisked away by a social worker and reunited with his father in Yellowknife. Uncle Jack buys the mountain, stops the logging (led by Dan), puts the statue and park on the mountain, and proposes to Miss Bowzer. In a magnificent denouement, Ked hitchhikes back from Yellowknife, reveals the abuses of his drug addicted father, and returns to Bert and Evie’s, who start adoption procedures.

     One Year in Coal Harbour is classic Horvath. Complex, wordy, emotional, but rarely dramatic, it immerses readers in the characters’ lives, from the most mundane idiosyncrasies (Evie’s penchant for putting mini marshmallows in everything she cooks) to the most poignant details (Ked’s occasional theft of money is revealed to be a habit he learned to buy food when his father was high). The novel is timeless, with only one passing mention of Internet at the library placing it likely in the 21st century. Starting out as uneventfully as possible, it takes no heed that it may lose some readers’ interest, instead concentrating on building up sympathy capital for those precious moments when it becomes gripping. Elegantly plotted, mesmerizingly characterized, full of gentle, rurally unpretentious yet profound dialogue and observations, One Year in Coal Harbour can be oblique at times, losing its plot in Primrose’s obsessive overthinking, potentially making it hard for some readers to see the forest of plot for the trees of details. But when the plots do come to their unforeseen conclusions, the right readers will suspend disbelief at the slightly miraculous coincidences and revel in the marvelous year they have just spent with a charming town.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.

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

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