CM . . . .
Volume V Number 5 . . . . October 30, 1998
I've finally seen my father. It's too bizarre . . . running into him on the street like that--almost a letdown. But what had I expected? Fireworks? Harp music filtering down from the heavens? On the street, he had said, "I knew there was something about you. You --" You what? What was he going to say? "You look exactly as I imagined you a thousand times . . .?" Yesterday, Mom had said, "He didn't want me. Or you." I try to pull my thoughts together from the chatter of feelings. He was only steps away . . . only slightly taller than me. His hair was a shade darker, and thinning. His eyes, so blue when he took off his sunglasses. They were mine, or mine were his. I feel like screaming. Instead I listen to the silence all the way home."This is a bad idea," Jane Harrison groans as she and her 14-year old daughter, Claire, near the family farm in Smallwood, BC. "What was I thinking?" Jane had left home 15 years earlier, never to return until now. Claire, on the other hand, eagerly anticipates not only getting to know her maternal grandmother, but finding answers to questions that have long puzzled her--why won't Mom talk about her past? Why did Mom refuse to attend grandfather's funeral? Why has Claire's father never contacted them? Why has Mom never returned home or allowed Claire to visit?
Gran offers new insights which force Claire gradually to sort through the confusion and draw her own conclusions. Claire watches her mother's city-Jane persona struggle with her farm-Janey persona. Jane hates being back on the farm and longs for the civilization of Toronto; Claire "is falling in love with the slower rhythm of the country." While exploring the area, Claire meets Jamie, a seven-year-old leukaemia victim, and his father, Mac. Mac turns out to be her father and Jamie her half brother. Mac unsuccessfully begs Jane to have Claire tested as a potential bone marrow match for a life-saving transplant for Jamie. When Claire learns of the request, she agrees immediately and unconditionally, precipitating a rift between mother and daughter that only Jane's remarkable epiphany can bridge.
Friesen's first novel resonates with emotional tension aroused by examining the past to understand the present and deal with the future. The characters are well-presented and engaging. "Janey's girl," Claire, is a sensitively drawn and courageous character who leads with her heart in her relationships and her decision making. Friesen handles the Jane/Janey conflict gently yet firmly. The dialogue effectively combines humour and honesty to illuminate character and emotion.
Janey's Girl could easily have deteriorated into sentimentality, but Friesen adroitly avoids that trap and presents a well-written, emotionally satisfying portrait of forgiveness, reconciliation and acceptance.
Darleen Golke is the teacher librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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