CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 11. . . .November 15, 2013
Spit Feathers. (The Lobster Chronicles).
Jessica Scott Kerrin. Illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2013.
140 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
Everything Ferguson knew about funeral services he had learned from his grandfather and his grandfather’s retired fishing buddies at Sunset Manor, the seniors’ residence in Lower Narrow Spit. His grandfather had moved there more than a year ago, and Ferguson had been attending funerals ever since.
But one service stood out among all the others.
McDermit had been his grandfather’s friendly rival, a lobster fisherman whom his grandfather had known since they were boys. When McDermit died, his family donated many items that he had made to Lower Narrow Spit’s community museum.
“A remarkable legacy,” Ferguson’s grandfather observed whenever Ferguson took him to the museum so that he could marvel at McDermit’s exhibit. “His handiwork was mighty fine.”
But that admiration soon gave way to worrying thoughts. Ferguson’s grandfather had become obsessed about leaving something of his own behind when his time came.
“What’s my legacy?” he asked whenever Ferguson came to visit, which was every day after school.
More than anything, Ferguson wished he had an answer.
Spit Feathers, the last book in Jessica Scott Kerrin’s “The Lobster Chronicles” trilogy, takes a gentle look at relationships, memory and remembering. As with Lower the Trap and A Narrow Escape, the other two books in the series, one plotline centres on the sale of the giant lobster at the Lower Narrow Spit’s annual auction. In this iteration of the tale, however, Kerrin focuses on Ferguson’s relationships, particularly his relationship with his grandfather.
Ferguson is a serious young man who likes to record interesting stories and sayings in his notebook. Being the only boy in a family with eight sisters, Ferguson has developed the habit of visiting his grandfather every day as a short reprieve from his loud and active household. Ferguson loves and respects his grandfather and emulates him in his clothes and in his speech. He also enjoys visiting his grandfather at the Sunset Manor because of all the stories his grandfather and his cronies tell.
When Ferguson’s grandfather’s talented friend, McDermit, dies, the grandfather starts to question how, and if, he will be remembered and wonders what his legacy will be. The plot follows the pair as they try to solve the legacy question. Perhaps the answer lies with the huge lobster caught by Graeme’s father.
All of the books in “The Lobster Chronicles” consider the concepts of relationship and identity. In Lower the Trap, readers met Graeme and were introduced to a plotline that runs through all three books. Graeme has a strong connection with his community and the surrounding environment. His goal is to become a marine biologist when he gets older. A Narrow Escape broadened readers’ knowledge of the people of Lower Narrow Spit and focussed on the attempts of Norris Fowler to fit into a community where he does not really understand how to belong. Spit Feathers turns the spotlight to family relationships while also providing glimpses into the relationships that develop within the seniors’ residence.
One of the strengths of Spit Feathers is the characterization of Ferguson and his grandfather. The grandfather loves to play jokes (particularly on an attractive widow in the residence), play board games, and reminisce about his life and his friend McDermit. Ferguson, on the other hand, plans funerals for birds based on the funerals he has attended with his grandfather, spends part of every day with his grandfather, and loves to write the stories and sayings he hears at Sunset Manor in his notebook. Ferguson believes that “Words are more real than people” because “People die, but words go on and on and on.”
Kerrin made a good choice to tell this story last. At this point in the cycle, the lobster plot becomes of secondary importance. The reader already knows the outcome of the lobster auction and what role the characters played in the lobster’s fate. In Spit Feathers, the lobster’s tale becomes a subplot on which Kerrin builds the new plot dealing with the legacy question. With the groundwork already laid, Kerrin can flirt with the reader by giving glimpses of the other residents in the Manor with all their eccentricities. Through gentle humour, she also takes the time to show the loneliness and failing health that can accompany aging.
Kerrin had to consider the intrinsic issues of using the same plot three times. First, how can one keep the concept fresh with so much repetition? Although Kerrin focussed on different elements in each story and developed additional plot lines, this repetition inevitably slowed the pacing of the subsequent stories. This can be a benefit to the weaker reader, but a stronger reader may lose interest. Secondly, the author had to decide whether to develop the storyline or simply rewrite it from another perspective. Kerrin used the latter approach. As a result, the characters met in the previous books become secondary with no additional growth. I found this unfortunate as I did have questions I wanted answered from the previous stories.
Spit Feathers was a satisfying read. It resonated with me because of my own love of family history and fascination with my grandfather's stories. I had a strong bond with my grandparents and have had the pleasure of watching my son’s special bond with his grandfather. Author Jessica Scott Kerrin has done a lovely job depicting this special connection in a sweet and sensitive story about remembering and honouring the elderly.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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