________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 19 . . . . May 23, 2003


Old Woman Island.

George Lalor. Illustrated by Réal Bérard.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2002.
91 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-894717-14-7.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

***1/2 /4


One day some years ago an old Cree woman went out to the island in her canoe. What the hell she’d go there fer beats me - there ain’t nothing there anybody’d want unless it’s gulls eggs: no berries, no good fishin’ spots - just a mass of piled up rock and stunted pine. Anyway: the story goes the old woman’s canoe got away on her an left ‘er stranded. All night she called fer help but nobody wanted to go out in the dark t’get ‘er. The next day when the people reached the island, the old woman had plumb disappeared never t’be seen again. Even t’this day, the Cree people who live along the shore here, claim that ‘er spirit is out there on the island; that sometimes they can hear it hollerin’ for help. Nobody, White or Indian’ll go near the place: Indians are scared to an’ Whitemen got no reason t’bother with it.


Based on the title, cover art, and publisher, one would expect Old Woman Island to be a book about Canada’s aboriginal people. It is not - well, not in the usual sense, at any rate. The novel is set in Flynn’s Landing, a rural Saskatchewan community built around a sawmill and populated by an odd assortment of Métis, Cree, and Whites. The year is 1952, and Timothy Martin Flynn, a twelve year old boy from Winnipeg, has come to spend the summer with his grandparents, Molly and Dan Flynn. Up to this point, Timothy has lived a sheltered existence, coddled by an overprotective mother who barely lets him take a step without holding his hand. To say he is unprepared for the raw life of Flynn’s Landing is an understatement. But all that is about to change. No sooner do Timothy’s parents drive off, than Grandma Molly conveniently loses the list of do’s and don’ts left by Timothy’s mother, and Grandpa Dan introduces his grandson to a few of the locals and then leaves him to do whatever it is that twelve year old boys have always done. It is Orlie Chubb, the wild son of the sawmill’s foreman, who shows Timothy exactly what that is. During the weeks that follow, the boys get themselves into all sorts of trouble, and though their backgrounds set them apart, they develop a reciprocal admiration and trust that lasts for the rest of their lives, even though they never see each other again. The story begins with a middle aged Timothy returning to Flynn’s Landing thirty seven years later. Divorced and recovering from a heart attack, he is hoping to rediscover himself and fulfill a promise he’d made to Orlie all those years before. But Flynn’s Landing has changed, and Orlie has died, leaving a young widow and a daughter. By all reports, Orlie had been a wealthy man, but he’d hidden his fortune without telling anyone where, and as a result, his family is on the brink of losing everything. But as Timothy recalls his adventures with Orlie, he finds the solution to the problem.

     Youth revisited is bittersweet. It is memory colored by understanding and regret, and it leaves one aching for what was or could have been. So it is with Old Woman Island. Lalor has captured a time and a place so vividly, the reader forgets it is someone else’s memory. This is a wonderful read.

Highly Recommended

Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for young people.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.