CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 18. . . . May 9, 2003
It was March and the snow was almost gone from the school yard at Pemberton Meadows Elementary. At lunch time Julie had been turning her end of the skipping rope. The girl whose turn it was to skip had face Julie.
And then between jumps as though it was an old skipping rhyme, the girl said, "My-mom-says-your-mom-is-going-to die."
Julie felt a huge shock roll through her body. She stopped turning the rope. The girl added, "What are you going to do when your mom dies?"
Julie wanted to give the girl a huge shove. Instead she threw down her end of the skipping rope and ran through the mud and piles of snow to the back of the school and sat on some old steps where no one could see her. She took in great breaths of air. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She didn't go back into the school when the bell rang.
Cross My Heart takes place in 1956 in Pemberton Valley in British Columbia. The story is about Julie, who is in grade five, her mother and father. In the 1920's when Julie's mother was a young girl in Saskatchewan, she had rheumatic fever and almost died. After she recovered, her family moved to British Columbia. They did not realize that there had been damage to her heart.
Sophie became a teacher and married Duncan. Julie was born to them and is now the same age as her mother was when she had rheumatic fever. Sophie's heart condition has made it almost impossible for her to maintain a normal life. When Duncan's sister, Francine, has taken Sophie and Julie to a near-by grocery store, Sophie reads about a new operation done in Toronto on the heart. She is hopeful that something can be done for her heart's leaking valves.
Once Sophie' chances are assessed, she waits to be called for her surgery. Her mother comes from Vancouver to assist the family. When she goes for her operation, Julie must stay with her father's cousin, Mary Margaret and Svend. Julie has a good relationship with her father, and together they work on the farm and wait for news.
When school is finished and the operation still has not been scheduled, Francine takes Julie to visit her mother in Vancouver. On the train, Julie meets Esme, who has no relatives and who is, in her words, "comfortably well off." She goes to Vancouver for music lessons. When Julie returns to the farm, a letter comes from Esme, and they stay in contact. When they are visiting with Grandma and Sophie, the call comes from the hospital that the surgery will be tomorrow.
Duncan comes by freight train, and together he and Julie go to the hospital. They are instructed that Julie cannot visit at the hospital. She is a child, and children are "covered in germs." They are also informed that there has been a complication. Everything turns out fine with the surgery, but Sophie must stay in the hospital for an extended period.
and Julie return to the farm. Summer holidays pass, and Julie begins
The characters are very realistic. The dialogue and the behavior are suitable for the age and situation of the novel. The relationship between Julie and her father and also Julie and her mother are believable. Julie does not want to face the reality at first, but then she turns to her father, and they realize that they can't stop what is going to happen.
The bonding of family is an issue that is dealt with in the novel. Julie comes to understand her father's cousin better when she stays with Mary Margaret and Mary Margaret talks about her own grandmother and Duncan as a young child. At the end, Julie's grandmother from Vancouver moves to the farm with them. The continuation of relationships is also shown when Julie's teacher, Miss Hendricks, comes back after the summer holidays, married to Julie's bus driver.
The major theme of the novel is change. Julie doesn't want her world to change, but she has no choice. Even the character of two dogs, her own, Dogeez, and Mary Margaret's Victor, reflect that not everyone or everything is the same. It is how we respond that is important.
The vocabulary is appropriate for the intended audience. The drawings add an interesting dimension to the novel. They particularly reflect the mood of Julie and how unhappy and unsettled she is about her situation. Julie, though, never gives up, and her father allows her the freedom to be herself. Every day when she is to go to Mary Margaret's farm, she forces Mr. Woodburn, the bus driver, to let her off at her own farm.
The novel is based on a true story and reflects life in the Pemberton Valley in the 1950's. It blends a medical suspense story with a touching family story with historical authenticity. Teachers, parents and children will enjoy this novel. I would recommend it as a class novel to be read out loud or for silent reading. It would be a good addition to a school or public library.
Deborah Mervold is a teacher-librarian and a Grade 12 English teacher at W.P. Sandin Composite High School, a grade 5 to 12 school in Shellbrook, SK.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.