________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 32. . . April 28, 2017


Road Signs That Say West.

Sylvia Gunnery.
Toronto, ON: Pajama Press, 2017.
213 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-77278-023-9.

Subject Headings:
Depressed persons-Fiction.
Sexual abuse victims-Fiction.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Allison Giggey

***½ /4



Claire is thinking about what it’d be like travelling with a bunch of friends like that. Everyone pretty much knowing everyone else. All the things that make them laugh or make them sad. She wonders if they argue much. For sure, it’d be way different than being with your sisters. Even though sisters don’t know everything about you, they think they do. And how can you tell them everything anyway? They won’t really get it in the exact way you mean it. With the exact way you feel.

* * * * *

It was Hanna’s idea to stay and help Bear paint the house. “Just for a few days,” she said as they were getting dressed that morning. “To help get him started.”

“Why don’t they hire painters?” said Megan.

“Do you notice nothing, Megan? These people don’t have money to hire painters. And Bear’s uncle’s depressed about something. Norma said it’s hard for him to even go to work. That’s why Bear came all the way here to help them.”

“I think we should stay too,” said Claire. “I like Pinawa.”

“You like Bear,” said Hanna.

“I do not.”

“Just sayin’.”

“If we keep stopping, we’ll never get to Vancouver,” said Megan.

“Hmmm. Sounds like a song.”

“Everything’s a big joke to you.”

“Everything’s a big bore to you.”

“Are we staying or not?” asked Claire.

“Let’s vote,” said Hanna.


In Sylvia Gunnery’s novel Road Signs That Say West, Hanna persuades her younger sisters, Megan and Claire, to join her on a parent-free road trip across Canada. As each girl deals with her own set of problems-- past, present, and future-- the sisters learn more about themselves, about the lives and problems of others, and about the importance of letting go and moving forward. Between crashing a wedding, hitting a dance club (and an ER), helping a hitchhiker paint a house, and learning to trust their instincts about dangerous people, the journey is not necessarily what they expected. With a cast of interesting yet believable characters, Road Signs That Say West gives a realistic look into the lives and relationships of three very different yet inextricably linked sisters.

     Road Signs That Say West is a novel that will absolutely find its way to the shelves of the junior high library I run. In a YA world full of fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian fiction, I have a large number of readers looking for what we call people stories: complex stories about realistic characters and their lives. The sisters in this story are believable and familiar without the author’s resorting to clichés. Hanna is a typical protective eldest sibling, hiding her painful secrets from her younger sisters. She clearly wants to follow her own path but struggles with the thought of leaving them behind. Claire tries to keep up with her older siblings in typical youngest-child fashion. However, she is also dealing with the tragic loss of a close friend, something that neither of her sisters truly understand. Middle sister Megan may be a little bit overlooked and underdeveloped, but isn’t that the way of the middle child? While we eventually get backstories for the other two sisters, there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for Megan’s constant negativity.

     The situations that the girls find themselves in make for an interesting but believable road-trip story. While there is nothing boring about their adventure, there is also nothing that jumps off the page as improbable or unlikely. My junior high readers generally like to see some of themselves or their experiences in the novels they read, and this book would certainly accomplish that for many of them. For those buying books for a younger audience, there is some mature content in this novel; it’s done subtly, though, and is always pertinent to the story.

     Road Signs That Say West reads quickly and cleanly, with simple yet engaging language. It’s broken up into sections; there are smaller passages within the chapters, and 6-8 chapters within each of the three parts. This structure makes the novel manageable for struggling readers without affecting the flow of the story or making it choppy. It’s written entirely in third-person present tense, presumably to make it feel as if the reader is travelling with the girls. Overall, this choice works; one standout example would be in Part Two, Chapter Three, when Claire is lying in bed listening to a rainstorm pass overhead. That said, there were other times when a first-person perspective might have been beneficial.

     On a personal note, there are few things I enjoy more than seeing my hometown mentioned in works of literature. Gunnery’s novel opens with a fitting quote from Islander Catherine McLellan’s song “Lines on the Road”. A few chapters in, there is a reference to the university in Charlottetown. A reader in Southern Manitoba will recognize the name Pinawa, and one in Saskatchewan might recognize Weyburn. Baddeck, Edmundston, Jasper, and Mount Robson are among the other places named as the girls travel west across Canada. The mentions of various cities and landmarks across the country is a perfect way to draw readers into the story.

Highly Recommended.

Allison Giggey is the teacher-librarian at an intermediate school in Prince Edward Island.

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.

Next Review | Table of Contents For This Issue -April 28, 2017
CM Home
| Back Issues | Search | CM Archive | Profiles Archive