CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 20 . . . . June 8, 2001
Once upon a time, I could walk and run.The common theme in YA fiction of finding oneself amid adversity is placed in a unique context for readers of today. At seven years of age, while living in a happy Toronto suburb, Pauline is struck down during the polio epidemic of the mid-1950's. Five years later, she is on the verge of adolescence, with the dreams, uncertainties and conflicts of this age compounded by her physical disability and the emotional impact of her experiences. By Carter's writing in the first person, Pauline's thoughts and emotions, as she tries to make sense of events and people, are realistically expressed. With great effect, the author uses flashbacks to the critical period of Pauline's illness, alternating with chapters of her current struggles to move forward in her life.
As revealed in this story, the polio epidemic was life-changing for patients and their families. Pauline spends months in hospital in an iron lung, followed by painful therapy at the rehabilitation centre, a child isolated form her parents by hospital rules, terrified by the illness and cruel nurses, and literally unable to speak of the horrors and her fears. Inadvertently, she sends away her best friend and shares the experiences only with her roommates. Then her heroine Tante Marie arrives, sees the distress that Pauline's parents could not, and rescues her. Now twelve years of age, Pauline longs to play hockey on the backyard rink, to attend school, and to walk like everyone else. Instead, she is an onlooker of life who feels humiliated by her disability and controlled by her over-protective mother who is, in Pauline's words, "a dream squelcher." Pauline's father, racing her across the ice to play hockey from her wheelchair, walks a fine line between placating his wife and encouraging his daughter. Ultimately, Pauline's beloved Tante Marie shows her that her future is in her own hands. The reader senses that finally Pauline is "in the clear," both on the rink and in her life ahead.
As Pauline makes sense of her own experiences, she also begins to understand and reveal the personalities, conflicts and concerns of people in her own life. The author creates a believable web of circumstances and characters, hinting at hidden depths and life stories only glimpsed by Pauline. Many readers will feel empathy for all players in this story and will want to follow Pauline further as she meets the challenges that lie ahead. In the Clear is recommended primarily for early Middle Years girls although some boys may be drawn by the hockey motif and the male supporting characters. If aspects of the book appear familiar to some readers, it may be because they first met Pauline in Carter's short story "Leaving the Iron Lung" which was initially published in Prairie Fire (Vol. 19, No. 3, Autumn, 1998), reprinted in Close-Ups (Red Deer Press, 2000) and awarded the Vicky Metcalf Short Story Award.
Sheila Alexander is a Middle Years Teacher Candidate in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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