Apparently, it’s CanCon November! All Canadian content, all the time. Here’s something nice and cheery just in time for Remembrance Day.
If I Die Before I Wake: The Flu Epidemic Diary of Fiona Macgregor, Toronto, Ontario, 1918, Jean Little, 2007.
Let’s get one thing straight: Jean Little is a Canadian treasure. If you’re American, like I am, and didn’t discover her works until later, you are absolutely missing out. She’s written several Dear Canada novels and they’re all spectacular, a ridiculous number of other great books, and teaches children’s literature at Guelph. She’s amazing and touches on really horrible issues and problems, but she writes so beautifully and clearly—there are some novelists who write about child abuse or disabilities for a children’s audience, but they can be stilted or awkward—for Jean Little, never. She handles everything with such a deft and beautiful touch.
That being said, this is an incredibly hard book to review. I think as a rule Dear Canada books tend to shy away less and are less flinching when it comes to illness and death, and this is a terrific example. While in Dear America books death comes in the background or to a tertiary character, in DC books there’s no hiding from it. It’s more realistic, in its way, but it’s also much more difficult to read. This book focuses on the Spanish Flu epidemic, but there’s another one that touches on the polio epidemic in the 40s that I’ll get to eventually, and it is brutal and totally straightforward. The protagonist is twelve years old, but honestly, I would have had a tough time with this book at age twelve.