________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 10 . . . . January 15, 1999

cover Carving My Name.

Mary-Kate McDonald.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 1998.
137 pp, paper, $14.95.
ISBN 1-895449-83-9.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4


I'm not sure how to answer her without it hurting. I try not to say too much where Dad is concerned; I don't trust myself to remember Cally still needs him, still wants him in her life. She is young enough to still have hope that he'll change. She doesn't know what I do, that for Dad to change he'd have to want to, he'd have to recognize the problem, and he doesn't. I don't think he ever will. He's had years to get his act together; to figure out that it's not enough to take your kids out for dinner once a week, that fathering requires much more of an effort than that. He calls us his "pals" and thinks that's enough. He never says the word "daughter."

"Sometimes people find it hard to be honest," I say. "They think if they make excuses it won't hurt the other person as much. But really, it hurts more. I think it's easier if someone just says straight out what they mean."

Absent, uninvolved, or insensitive parents appear in many of the nine stories in Carving My Name. Deena's assessment (quoted from "The Middle Pane") not only sums up the sense of loss and disillusionment many protagonists face, but it illustrates their capacity to understand and take care of each other. In the title story, Jason explains that, although his father reappears after an eight year absence, he is "the kind of guy with his head always off somewhere else." Amanda's father in "A Painting in the Making" briefly reappears when her mother succumbs to schizophrenia. Both Maybelle and her father in "The Only Sound" must adjust to her mother's sudden death. In "Bud," Grandpa Frank takes the place of Francine's absent father and her workaholic mother. Nina's father in "With the Heart Facing In" has not adjusted to his wife's death, and Nina finds difficulty "living up to the memory of a dead woman." Tyler's father in "The Broadway Café" expects Tyler to embrace his new wife and her child, seemingly ignoring Tyler's continuing pain at his mother's death.

      The motif of loss recurs in the stories with the resultant distress, and yet McDonald allows some of her characters respite. Although Jason and Edgar "have always been a team," Edgar fails to tell Jason he is moving to New Orleans, leaving Jason to adjust. In "Orange Mojos and Half Cream Soda," Lucy discovers Kurt's worth after facing George's repeated betrayal. In "Four Mile Road," Janine's sense of inadequacy because she and Andrew fail as a couple turns to appreciation of their friendship as she decides he really is "her soul mate, a partner in a world " they "have both found such a hard place to be." Dad's reluctance to allow Nina to be her own person sends her to Paddy who loves her, makes her "feel grounded," and gives her a claddagh ring with "the heart facing in." Deena and Tyler shelve their own pain and grief to comfort and care for younger sisters.

      Six of the nine stories have first person narrators. Seven of the protagonists are female, two are male. Loneliness, grief, neglect, death, illness, betrayal, and dysfunctional families are juxtaposed with friendship, joy, successful relationships, courage, tenderness, and love. Only in "Bud" does McDonald adopt a lighter tone with genuine humour to balance the pain - much of the laughter stems from the antics of Francine's beloved canine nuisance, Bud. The young people in Carving My Name demonstrate remarkable compassion, maturity, and resilience in coping with imperfect people in an imperfect world.


Darleen Golke is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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ISSN 1201-9364