I feel compelled to start off every single Dear Canada review with “my God, this book is super depressing.” This one is no different, because of course not. Probably because it’s about the Acadian Expulsion, one of the most depressing events in Canadian history, and doesn’t improve from there.
Banished from Our Home: The Acadian Diary of Angélique Richard, Grand-Pré, Acadia, 1755, Sharon Stewart, 2004.
I went to graduate school in New Brunswick, and consequently learned a fair bit about the Acadians, but I am in no way an expert in this part of history (other than, as I mentioned, “depressing.”) And if you are very unlucky and get stuck with an Acadian person obsessed with the past, they will be happy to tell you all about the Expulsion, on and on and on in unending, depressing detail, the likes of which would make a history teacher thrill to hear. But luckily you don’t need to need any background to enjoy (“enjoy”) this story!
Angélique is one of eight children on a farm in Grand-Pre, where her family has lived for many years, and political pressure is making things difficult for everyone. One of her older brothers, Victor, is joining up with the rebels who are fighting against the British, which puts him and the rest of their family in grave danger. (At this point, Britain had conquered France and won Acadia, which means they were trying to anglicize the area and tamp down pro-French sentiment in the countryside. I know this is badly, badly simplified, please do not comment or email me to give me a history of the Acadians, I know.)
I’ve had this blog for two years and I haven’t even touched a book out of this series yet! What’s wrong with me? (I was convinced these books are boring, that’s what.)
Graves Of Ice: The Lost Franklin Expedition, George Chambers, The Northwest Passage, 1845¸John Wilson, 2014.
Side note: if you can get through this whole review without getting Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage stuck in your head, you’re a better person than I am. I spent two days reading this book and fully ¾ of that time I spent trying to remember the words to the world’s most mournful song after The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which coincidentally is also about shipwrecks.
Anyway, I have been avoiding the I Am Canada series because I was convinced they were boring, but this one was not! And to be honest the only reason I picked it is because it’s actually already out of date. The two ships involved, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror have been located in the Arctic (the Terror just this year!), exactly where Inuit hunters had been telling the idiot white people to go and look for them. (This is true, by the way.) So while the expedition was lost in the sense that everyone died, the remains of their ships and many of the crew members have been located. So now I suppose it’s the “doomed” Franklin Expedition? Is that better?
Also I have to note here as well that I feel like Terror is a horrible name for a ship bound to be on an expedition to a terrifying land where there’s every chance that everyone will die. I wouldn’t get on it.
One of the interesting things about the Royal Diaries series is that they’re doing a really difficult task—taking small parts of (mostly) very famous stories, and adapting them for a young audience, but deleting all the sex-and-death that tends to populate adult fiction. They’re more daily life and growing up (and therefore more relatable for a young audience) and less violent killing and adultery.
Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country, France, 1553, Kathryn Lasky, 2002.
This is an interesting one because Mary Queen of Scots story is generally immensely overshadowed by her far more famous cousin, Elizabeth I of England. But this is the prelude to a story that’s really fascinating in its own way (after all, Mary was eventually imprisoned for eighteen years and then executed by Elizabeth, after a fun-filled life that included being the Queen of France and then a marriage to a noble that ended in his murder and a major explosion at their house! Whew) and features all kinds of famous names that usually pop up in much more lascivious books: Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici, Nostradamus! Geez.
This book was a surprisingly enjoyable reread and trip down Memory Lane! However, I have never found anyone who’s ever even heard of it, which is truly bizarre to me. I don’t think they even had it in my childhood library—I don’t even know where my copy came from. Someone must have given it to me as a gift WAY too young, because I have a very clear memory of trying to read it in Grade 2 at age eight and being in way over my head and then stowing it away in my desk. I didn’t pick it up again until sometime in high school, I think.
Quest For A Maid, Frances Mary Hendry, 1988.
I’m not a big fantasy person, but this book has exactly the right amount for me. Meg, the protagonist, is the nine-year-old youngest of seven sisters, all daughters of a reasonably wealthy Scottish shipwright in Inverkeithing in the 13th century. Her oldest sister, Inge, is a witch, and a witch of some power to boot. We start right in on the action when Meg hides in her sister’s storehouse and watches as an elegant court lady asks for a favour from Inge—asking her to kill the king, Alexander III, to clear the way for her own family to assume the throne. Inge does it by appearing in a spectre before the king as he rides during a dark night’s storm towards his queen—and then Scotland is, predictably, plunged into a horrorshow.
One of the things that’s so great about this book is that Hendry is a terrific writer, and the book moves right along at a terrific clip considering at 270 pages it’s a pretty hefty tome for a YA novel. And the second great thing is that it relies pretty heavily on plenty of Scots dialect words, but it doesn’t come off as pretentious and annoying like so many others do. I think it’s due to the fact that Hendry uses it extensively throughout the book, rather than just sprinkling in a few words here and there for “effect,” and the fact that it doesn’t distract from the story itself. It’s used along with sentence structure evocative of Scots that’s period-appropriate, so instead of just being a twee little affectation, it’s a major, and excellent, part of the book.
I wanted to hate this book so badly but I just couldn’t. Who knows, maybe I just had a particularly good week, but as stupid and ridiculous as this book was (and trust me: it was) I couldn’t hate it as much as I hate most of the Sunfire books. (I.e., enjoyable hatred.)
Margaret, Jane Claypool Miner, 1988.
This book came out the year I was born and has a sticker on the back that says “PRICE 25¢” and I have no idea when it dates from. But at one point this book also passed through the Book Rack (locations in Arlington and Richland Hills, Texas) and cost $1.25 there. Check out this cover—Margaret is a spoiled, naïve little girl, but it’s impossible to hate anyone who wears a hat so jauntily with an expression of such clueless self-satisfaction. Also, her outfit bears a suspicious resemblance to the American Girl, Addy’s school outfit (and as I Googled this I discovered they changed it and now it’s not as cute anymore! WTF, this is what happens when Mattel just fucked up everything), just look at it!
Anyway, look at the other men on the cover: there’s a hayseed wearing a suspiciously sharp-looking blue shirt and jeans and suspenders; and a nattily-dressed youth in a striped tie and straw boater, and he and Margaret are embracing in the bottom corner and gazing into each other’s eyes. Now normally this is a giant honking clue as to who the main character will end up with, but I suspect not in this case because usually the richer the guy is, the more of a douchebag he is. Let’s see.
Margaret here is the wealthy orphaned daughter of a Chicago family, who’s grown up with her aunt and uncle in the lap of luxury. But she’s decided (and it is never fully explained why) that she wants to dump all of that and become a schoolteacher in Nebraska. Also not fully explained: how she found out about this town, how they came to offer her a teaching position, any of this. Whatever, it’s not really important, clearly, because by page 13 Margaret is off on a train to Nebraska. Ridiculously, apparently she spends only “eight hours” on the train between Chicago and Nebraska, which is blatantly stupid because it takes longer than that right now in 2016 to go between Chicago and Omaha. In 1886 that would definitely not be an eight-hour trip. I’m so confused.
This book is so boring it took me forever to get through it. It’s been on my shelf since I started this blog a year and a half ago and I keep putting it off because I remember it being so dreadfully boring as a kid! I’m becoming more and more convinced that the only reason Ann Rinaldi sold so many books was that there were no other “serious” historical fiction books aimed at this age bracket until Dear America came along, and possibly because these books were required by law to be in the library of every American classroom, just waiting to be assigned to an unwitting kid.
A Break With Charity, Ann Rinaldi, 1992.
If you’re keeping track, this is “the one about the Salem witch trials.” This isn’t going to be a super in-depth recap, because this is 284 pages of dense, dense, dense story. It’s such a shame, because the story of the witch trials itself is such an interesting one, but it’s just been done so much better and in so much more INTERESTING ways (like Lisa Fraustino’s Dear America book)! This reads like a vaguely fictionalized historical book, which it kind of is—the protagonist is a real person, 99% of the characters are real people, the events and timing are all real. But oh god. This is a trial all by itself.
Susanna English, the narrator, is the teenage daughter of a wealthy merchant in Salem, who feels largely left out from the general social run of things. She notices that a group of girls about her age have been gathering at the home of the parson with his slave, Tituba, who is teaching them fortune-telling and “little sorceries.” Because she’s left out of this, she’s jealously (and creepily) hiding in the woods when Tituba’s husband, John Indian, notices and invites her in. Tituba tells Susanna that she’s not doing anything evil, she’s just bringing some love and excitement into their lives because they’re frustrated—caught between girlhood and adulthood and not allowed to do much of anything.
Oh, come on. Did anyone seriously think that I would not buy and review this book immediately, as soon as it came out, with great fanfare and excitement? It’s the latest Dear Canada installment!
These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens, Northern Ontario, 1966, Ruby Slipperjack, 2016.
Ruby Slipperjack, the author, is a survivor of a residential school herself, and this book is based loosely on her experiences of growing up in a remote area and going to a city school beginning in Grade Five. When I heard DC was putting out a book about residential schools, I was super excited, but I also thought they would be setting it on the prairies between, oh, the 1880s and 1930s or so, which I think is what people tend to associate with the “classic” residential schools experience. But, rightly, Scholastic Canada probably figured they had a bunch of books set during that time period, and they were due for one set in a more recent period and they could focus on the residential school experience in the “modern” era, which is a lot less popular. Although it has been gaining some media exposure with the movement towards reconciliation, I think it forms much less of the popular conception.
I’m not going to do a full recap of this book, because it’s so new and I don’t want to spoil it, but it was shockingly, astoundingly hard to read in places, and amazingly different in tone from any other book in any other Dear America/Dear Canada/Royal Diaries/I Am Canada/My Name Is America/etc. series that I’ve ever read. I think the only one that it even comes close to in tone is Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, the Vietnam War era DA novel, and that’s only because it deals with some slightly mature themes in roughly the same time frame. But this book is so much more intense than that. Not in the sense that it has an extraordinarily heavy plot—in fact, it’s fairly light on the plot—but the subject matter is hardcore.