Sunday, April 20, 2008

Snowbound in Calgary. . .

Just wanted to say hello to my colleagues back in Toronto who are basking in summer sunshine. This is the view outside of our Calgary hotel where we arrived last night to minus 11 temperatures and blowing snow. We had lots of delays at the airport getting in and eventually got transferred to an earlier delayed flight 20 gates away (though to our delight we were upped to business class which got us a hot towel, free wine, more leg room, and a cheese and crackers plate with grapes). Unfortunately our luggage arrived an hour later on the original flight and so it was close to midnight before we checked in to our hotel. We didn't bring any winter boots with us, so we're essentially snowbound today. But we have all the essentials with us - lots of chocolate (courtesy of a raid we did on a Purdy's Chocolate shop in Richmond - we recommend the dark orange chocolate, the chocolate covered marshmallows and the blueberry & almond chocolate bars), high speed internet, and of course lots of books and manuscripts. It's really quite like a slumber party. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant or room service so we'll have to order in a pizza for dinner. There are very comfy beds though and the pillowcases are embroidered at the edges with the words "Firm" or "Soft"; we get two of each which is a nice touch. The snow has muffled any city noises and so if I squint or take out my contact lenses, I can almost believe I've escaped to a cabin in the woods. Almost.

I can recommend two recent YA novels with an Alberta connection. Afrika by Colleen Craig begins on an airplane as 13 year old Kim is excited to be leaving her hometown of Calgary en route to her mother Riana's birthplace - South Africa. Riana is a journalist covering the Truth and Reconciliation trials as the country tries to come to grips with its apartheid history. The tragic and graphic stories that she hears take a toll on Riana's mental health and Kim has to cope not only with her changed mother, but going to school in a new country with very different social and cultural codes. She becomes friends with a boy whose father's killer is soon to testify and together they embark on a quest to discover the truth about Kim's own father, who she has never met. There are many novels available that explore the immigrant experience in Canada, but not that many that focus on second generation Canadians going back to their parents' countries and reconnecting with their roots. This novel fills that void and also provides an interesting portrait of contemporary South Africa as it continues to grapple with its past.

In Porcupine by Meg Tilly, 12 year old tomboy Jack (short for Jacqueline), has to grow up fast when her father is killed fighting in Afghanistan and her mother crumbles under the grief. Jack and her two younger siblings are dumped at their great-grandmother's farm in Alberta. The children have to deal with feeling abandoned by their mother while continually worried that their prickly, elderly relative, who previously never even knew they existed, will turn her back on them as well. This book made me cry quite unabashedly (fortunately not in public). Jack's complicated relationships with her siblings are poignantly written, in particular her attempts to help her young brother Simon who has a reading disability. Childhood shouldn't be this tough and confusing and I think this novel is a very powerful reminder of how quickly and completely a tragedy can break down a family. And it offers hope in personal courage, integrity and love without being saccharine or tying everything up neatly with a pat ending. I don't know if there is a sequel in the works but Jack was definately one young female character I wanted to keep on cheering for.

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