________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 3. . . . October 4, 2002

cover True Confessions of a Heartless Girl.

Martha Brooks.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2002.
210 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-88899-476-1

Subject Heading:
Interpersonal relations-Fiction.
City and town life-Fiction.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**** /4



It would have been the easiest and best thing, Noreen thought, to just get the hell back in the truck and take off. But she couldn't think of where to go. In fact, she couldn't think at all.

The old lady in the pink sweatshirt had made some tea, set it in front of her, urged her to eat something and then had left her to go back out front and look after a couple of customers, It was around eleven-thirty. Hardly anybody was coming into the café‚ now. The woman from last night, yawning over a cup of hot coffee, leaned against the stove and took a break.

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, Brooks' fourth YA novel, most forcefully reaffirms Brooks' position as Canada's premier writer for the older adolescent. Readers who have enjoyed Brook's previous novels will find that the present offering contains all of the fine ingredients which initially attracted them to her writing. In a June, 1999 Quill and Quire interview, Brooks noted that "My books aren't action driven....They're character driven...." Brooks' Q&Q statement is entirely applicable to True Confessions as circumstances bring a trio of women from three different generations into contact over a period of some 10 days. The catalyst, 17-year-old Noreen Stall, unwed and pregnant, arrives in Pembina Lake, Manitoba, in a stolen truck during a July evening prairie thunder storm. Noreen takes refuge from the rain in a caf‚ owned by Lynda Bradley, 36, who, with her young son, Seth, had arrived back in her home community some three years ago after leaving her Winnipeg teaching position to escape her physically violent husband. Lynda offers Noreen a place to stay for the night and later observes, "When you helped somebody, right away you were responsible for them. And things always happened for which you were never prepared." The third female is a septuagenarian First Nations woman, Dolores Harper, who waitresses part time in Lynda's restaurant. A year previously, Dolores' only child, her daughter Mirella, had died at age 36 of leukemia. In both Lynda and Noreen, Dolores sees aspects of her dead daughter.

     That Noreen is 17-years-old is not accidental for Brooks, in that same 1999 Q&Q piece, had noted, "I really wanted to write about human beings who were on the cusp between young adulthood and adulthood. You're really up against it at that age [17] because you have to find a way to make a beginning step into the adult world." In its broad strokes, the setting of True Confessions should also be familiar to Brooks' readers for it has appeared in other guises in her earlier novels. Identified in the novel as being about an hours' drive south of Brandon, the fictional Pembina Lake and its environs are the terrain of Brooks' childhood and adolescence. And should the theme of True Confessions also resonate with Brooks regular readers, that is to be expected, for Brooks' explained in the "Sidelights" portion of her Something About the Author entry:

For me as an artist there is truth in what some authors have said about theme: that once a writer has found her subject she will write about it for the rest of her life. Finding my subject, that of initiation in the face of love and loss, has allowed me real freedom - a faith that while I'm out there exploring the lives of my teenage characters, the core idea will always be back at the source helping to sustain the work as a whole.

     Love and loss, in varied forms, are a most definite part of True Confessions. Although Brooks has dedicated the novel to "the circles of women who grace my life, who nurture me daily with their physical presence, in memory or in the shared ancestral sisterhood of dreaming," the book is not without male characters with the two most prominent being Wesley Cuthand, 20, and Delbert Armstrong, 52. Wesley, a construction worker of Cree ancestry, had encountered Noreen when she was hitchhiking from Saskatoon to her home in Winnipeg, and the pair had quickly moved in together in his Brandon apartment. Wesley's previous negative experiences with girlfriends have made it difficult for him to commit fully to his relationship with Noreen even though he desperately wants to. Middle-aged Del farms near Pembina Lake and has very strong romantic feelings for Lynda, but his shyness, coupled with the ghosts of a 35-year-old tragedy, prevent him from acting on that emotion.

     Structurally, True Confessions uses "parts" which each contain separately numbered chapters. While Brooks' Bone Dance was divided into two parts and her Being with Henry into three, True Confessions utilizes four. "The Stranger" introduces both the situation of Noreen's arrival and the other two principal female characters; "True Confessions," in which Noreen confesses to having committed five of the seven deadly sins, provides brief, dated entries that are snapshots from Noreen's life from aged 12 to the present and which explain how it is that she has come to presently be in Pembina Lake; "The Wages of Sin" explores the kinds of "deaths" which have visited the lives of the novel's characters; and the final section, "Star,"(the name Noreen gave to her unborn child) comprises almost half of the book's length and brings closure to aspects of the characters' lives, though not necessarily always happily.

     The novel's catchy title and its dramatic cover illustration will also attract those readers who have not already met Brooks. A fine independent read, True Confessions of a Heartless Girl merits consideration as a classroom novel, perhaps as part of an entire unit of study on Brooks' YA corpus. A "must" purchase for all high school libraries and public library YA collections, True Confessions is a definite "crossover" book that merits a second (or third) copy being purchased for inclusion in the adult fiction collections of public libraries.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364