CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 21. . . .January 31, 2014
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2013.
211 pp., trade pbk., pdf & e-book, $11.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55380-259-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55380-261-7 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-55380-260-0 (e-book).
Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.
Review by Chris Laurie.
The constable looked at us - me and Mom weeping, Dad all but on his knees begging her to make this go away. She thought for a moment, wrote something in her notebook, closed it and was silent for a while longer.
“At first I didn’t think you would be a good candidate for the program, Darrah, but you now seem genuinely sorry for what you did. So I will suggest an alternative to you and your family. There is a way that you can make amends without going to court, which could easily happen.”
One dumb, selfish mistake changes 16-year-old Darrah’s life forever. When she feels her mother has over-reacted to her brother’s epileptic seizure by rushing them all to the hospital rather than let Darrah attend her theatre audition, Darrah pulls the hospital fire alarm and races down the stairwell in a last-ditch attempt to make it to the audition in time. Hardly noticing the elderly lady that she bumps into in the stairwell, Darrah is completely surprised when an RCMP Constable shows up on her doorstep, and she learns of the repercussion of her actions. In addition to being responsible for falsely sounding a fire alarm, she has also caused the lady to fall and break her leg.
Although Darrah’s first reaction is to utter “whatever” in reply to her responsibility in the matter, it is clear that she is genuinely sorry for what has happened. Acknowledging this, the Constable offers her another way to make amends: take part in a Restorative Justice Circle. She will need to publicly take full responsibility for her actions, apologise to those affected by them, and abide by the sanctions agreed upon by the members of the Circle. Still not taking full responsibility for her actions, and terrified of having to go to court, Darrah agrees, initially intending to merely go through the motions of apologising to quickly put the whole process behind her.
The Circle consists of a Facilitator, Darrah, her parents, the RCMP Constable, a hospital representative, and the elderly victim, Mrs. Johnson. Despite their seeming dissimilarities, the two, Darrah and the gruff old woman, begin to grow on each other from the moment their eyes meet. The Circle agrees that Darrah will make amends in part by helping Mrs. Johnson around her home for a couple of hours after school every Monday and Wednesday for a total of 50 hours of service.
Fearing that she’ll have to dig potatoes and perform other chores that are foreign to her, Darrah is relieved when Mrs. Johnson merely asks to have the newspaper read to her on their first visit. They quickly learn to respect the other’s opinions as they debate issues such as the demise of the local homeless shelter. On subsequent visits, Mrs. Johnson begins to teach Darrah to make recipes from her old home economics textbook which she has kept and adapted while cooking for first her children, then her grandchildren. The recipes turn out well, and Darrah finds making food from scratch, using her hands, and making other people happy through food is deeply satisfying.
Also helping the elderly lady is her grandson, 17-year-old Robin who is unaware of the real reason Darrah is there. The two quickly become fond of each other. With a growing compassion towards her ill brother and the other people around her, Darrah undergoes noticeable changes, with “whatever” becoming a less and less common word in her vocabulary. When Darrrah discovers that ‘Mrs. J.’ is gradually losing her sight, she agrees to keep the fiercely independent lady’s secret rather than run the risk of her having to give up her home and move into a retirement complex.
This deeply moving novel touches on many difficult issues. Homelessness and community responsibility, to health issues, honesty, responsibility and ultimately, secrets are dealt with in a clear and believable way. Initially, the author introduces readers to a wilful 16-year-old and gradually and completely realistically shares with the reader the teen’s journey to adulthood. Suspense builds throughout the novel as plots and subplots intertwine and reach a satisfying climax, then a final heart-breaking denouement.
Darrah is an engaging and thoroughly believable character, and despite readers’ introduction to her as a self-centred teen, by novel’s end, readers will be cheering her on as she develops into a mature young woman who realizes that one must own up to and accept the consequences for one's actions. Mrs. Johnson, Darrah’s brother Andrew, and romantic interest Robin are strong, well-developed secondary characters. Even the parents, so often under-written in young adult fiction, are clearly written and motivated.
Bonus: The novel includes the recipes that Mrs. Johnson shared with Darrah (the gingerbread recipe is awesome!)
Ann Walsh is the author of several award-winning books for younger readers, including Your Time, My Time and Shabash! as well as the “Barkerville Mystery’ series, set during BC's gold rush. She also writes short stories, poetry and creative non-fiction pieces for adults, has compiled and edited three anthologies and is a facilitator with the Williams Lake Community Council for Restorative Justice. She lives in Williams Lake, BC, and spends part of the year in Victoria.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.
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