Finished: Nov. 3, 2010
First Published: Apr. 6, 2010
Genre: Graphic novel, YA, historical fiction, magical realism
Acquired: Borrowed a copy from the Calgary library while on vacation.
Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.
The artwork is tremendously eye-catching in this, my first foray into Larson's work. Black & white can be extremely effective in the hands of a pro and Hope Larson is such an artist. I was caught up in the artwork throughout the story and I think that the b/w captures a mood both for the historical fiction aspect as well as the magical elements that colour would never have conveyed.
This story takes place in small town Nova Scotia, Canada and switches back and forth from a modern family and their 1859 ancestors who have lived on the same property until two months ago when Tara's house burnt down. Now she is living nearby with relatives while her mother has gone to work in the oilfields of Alberta to make some money for them.
Switch to 1859 and we have Josey and her family who meet Asa, a young man who has an uncanny talent for finding gold and who courts Josey as they fall in love. The family's life changes with the finding of gold and descends into tragedy. While back in the present Tara is given an old family heirloom necklace, which she soon finds to have a strange power, from this point on her family's life takes a turn toward a bright future. Both girl's are each other's counterpoint in time and they experience romance and love for the first time.
The book started off a bit awkward for me. It took some getting into the story, as the switches back and forth in time are short and quick. It also took me a few switches to realize that the past pages were bordered with black, the only indicator that a switch had taken place. Once one gets used to this, the story comes alive and, for me, got better and better as it went along. I didn't have any connections to the past characters except for not liking any of them. The mother was strict, unfeeling and Josey was very naive; I liked the men even less. However, in the present I really enjoyed Tara's character. Her behaviour, way of speaking and attitude were all consistent with an intelligent, yet self conscious teenage girl. I really enjoyed how the two stories were connected to each other and how the plots were in contrast of each other. One a dark descent into tragedy, the other dependant on the circumstances of the past, brings hope and a possible bright future for the down & out characters.
One thing I found amusing, as a Canadian, were all the footnotes for the Canadianisms as if it were a foreign language. LOL! I can understand non-Canadians not knowing what a loonie is even though it is funny reading the definition. But do people really not know where oil is located in Canada? Any Canadian could tell you where it is in the US. And dinner? does that need defining? What about a "soaker"? I never realized that was Canadian. Do Americans not get soakers when they step in puddles? And one that had me was kims for kilometres. I've never heard that word used in my life; it must be regional. We always say the whole kilometres, though when we were kids we used to say klicks. But I think that was an '80s thing because my kids have never said it. Very entertaining, were the footnotes, indeed!
There was a short conversation about homeschooling which I found to be in bad taste and cliched but otherwise a very interesting story. I do wish the ending were more finite, as it is left up to the reader to decide what the final outcome will be, and I prefer my books to tell me how it ends. But I think this book is going to appeal to teens and critics alike and I won't be surprised to see it turn up on other award lists or "Best of" lists at the end of the year.
N.B. This book is included in my Canada Book Challenge reads because the setting is entirely Canadian, even though the author is American.