Sunday 20 December 2020

Late autumn post...

It’s a drizzly morning, the last day of fall, and I have to say, I don’t love the damp cold or the slippery walking/driving conditions this type of weather offers.  I will be going to visit a friend for a gift drop-off this afternoon, though, so I have no long walks planned today, but I’m hoping for better walking weather in the days ahead, as I am now off work for the (extended?!) Christmas Break.  Right now I have a steaming cup of chai and a yummy Date Bar to keep me warm and cozy as I write this post.

I read two books this week by two of my favourite Canadian Children’s/Young Adult authors, The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle and Waiting Under Water by Riel Nason, and I was not disappointed by either one.  I read The Winnowing with my Intermediate book club at school, but since I hardly ever got to sit and read with them, I read most of it earlier this week.  This is a reread for me.  Here is what I wrote about it on Dec 17, 2017:

“The Winnowing by Canadian author Vikki VanSickle immediately caught my attention for a couple of reasons.  I loved the title.  "To winnow" means to blow a current of air through grain to remove the chaff.  Such an ordinary word, though not one we come across often, but in the context of this novel, it is very sinister indeed.  I loved the dark, brooding, mysterious cover.  I’ve read other books by this author, coming-of-age romantic novels which were very good, but this seemed completely different and I was curious to see how she handled it.  And since I’d just done book-talks for these ten nominees in four classes, many of the books were checked out, but this one was available at one of my schools, so I took advantage of the opportunity and started reading.  This novel is set in Darby, a small town famous for finding the cure for the Infertility Crisis and saving humankind.  Marivic is a young woman who is just reaching puberty, which is signalled by the nightmare-ish dreams and extraordinary running ability she has recently begun experiencing.  But these are so much more than just nightmares and sudden physical ability; Marivic is “going ACES” (Adolescent Chronosomniatic Episodes) and has developed imps (Adolescent Physical impairments), something that happens to everyone in town at a certain age.  These are things young people both look forward to and also dread.  Once someone begins “going ACES”, they are sent to a hospital, where they will undergo a procedure called “winnowing”, which will alleviate these nightmares and remove the imps, but it may also affect memory.  Marivic’s best friend, Saren, has just been admitted to the hospital for winnowing, and Marivic is anxious to join her there.  Once admitted, she finds Saren and together they discuss what they expect will happen to them during this procedure.  Saren doesn’t want to be winnowed, which Marivic can’t understand; why wouldn’t she want these horrible ACES to stop and go back to being her normal self?  When they receive a message inviting them to a meeting at the pool in the basement of the hospital in the middle of the night, Marivic agrees to accompany Saren, but only to ensure her safety.  At the meeting, they encounter a young man who suggests that the government is behind the Infertility Crisis, and that the winnowing procedure is designed to keep people from remembering their past and also to thwart their newfound physical abilities, which, he claims, are not, in fact, impairments, but rather natural physical enhancements.  Marivic is ready to dismiss this as nothing more than conspiracy theory, but after she receives tragic news and she has glimpses of something sinister from her past, Marivic must determine how far she is willing to go to find the truth.  I love a well-written dystopian novel, and there are many Young Adult novels in this genre out there, but they are not all appealing to me.  This one, however, grabbed me immediately and kept me riveted until the very last page, which took me just two days to reach (I had a grade 8 student who was waiting for it).  Imagine The Giver (Lois Lowry) meets The Maze Runner (James Dashner) with a dash of X-Files thrown in.  I was struck by how well-written and polished it was, no stumbling around to keep the pace or tone consistent, which I expected, given that this is such a departure from VanSickle’s usual fare.  It explored her usual themes of friendship and coming-of-age, but in a completely new and fascinating terrain.  I was very impressed, and will recommend this to students (and adults!) who enjoy gripping dystopian novels.”

My book group loved it, and they wished that this would be the first in a trilogy, which is so common in young adult books of this genre.  But alas, I think the last page of this book is really “the end”.  Upon second reading, I would still recommend it to intermediate students and adults, so if you are looking for a good dystopian novel, this may be a good choice for you.

I’ve read a couple of novels by Riel Nason, and especially enjoyed The Town That Drowned.  This new novel, Waiting Under Water, was equally as good.  Set in the small town of St David, New Brunswick, this novel tells the story of Hope, a twelve-year-old girl who has lived her whole life in this tiny seaside town.  When she learns that her family will be moving to Toronto at the end of the summer break because the company her father works for has been shut down and his job has been relocated, she falls into despair.  Socially awkward at the best of times, when experiencing anxiety, Hope also has a tic, something like a hiccup, that causes her to stand out and be ridiculed by the popular girls at school, and this summer’s news does little to ease her anxiety.  When she discovers that St David will be featured on the popular morning talk show Rise and Shine in a nationwide contest called “Canada’s Tiniest Treasures”, she and her best friend Willa decide that they will do everything they can to make sure St David wins.  Will Hope find a way to accept her family’s decision and overcome her anxieties?  Will she and Willa find a way to hold onto their precious friendship?  Will St David win the contest?  These questions and more will be answered if you choose to read this excellent coming-of-age novel by this amazing author.

That’s all for today.  Good-bye, fall... Hello winter!

Bye for now…

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