Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: January 1, 2003
Rating: 4/5 stars
CW: child sexual assault, graphic depictions of murder
In the middle of the Cold War, eight-year old Madeleine and her family move to a military base by the Canadian/American border. She starts at a new school and meets new people, and life at the base seems quiet for a moment. That is, until a shocking murder frightens the town, and leaves residents pointing fingers and gossiping as to who could be responsible. Soon, the connections to the murder come close to Madeleine's family, and she struggles to recount what she knows about the events that happened on the night of the murder, and what life has really been like for her since she moved to the base.
This book, like most of MacDonald's books, is long, graphic, and disturbing. You may remember my previous review of Fall On Your Knees by this author. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad book. MacDonald is a prolific Canadian author known for writing from the perspective of children, and she often likes to depict children from either marginalized or out casted groups. In this book, Madeleine is a young girl filled with curiosity about her new surroundings and the new people she will now call her friends. However, this curiosity soon shields itself in repression as she struggles to piece together what happened the night one of her friends died. Her father is also holding secrets, and pretty much most of the adults in this book are genuinely awful people, as are most of the adults in MacDonald's books. However, what I think MacDonald does particularly well, is build an atmosphere. She truly does historical fiction so well, and this book is filled to the brim with 1960's nostalgia and pop culture references. You really do feel like you entered a time capsule through this book, which is an important element to historical fiction.
I did find the characters well-rounded throughout the text. Most of the book is from the perspective of Madeleine, who goes for most of the book knowing more than the adults around her give her credit for. However, seeing that she is a kid, she also isn't always aware of the dangers around her, which puts her and her classmates at great risk. I won't go into too much detail surrounding what kinds of threats exist for Madeleine and her classmates, but I will say to pay attention to content warnings and tread lightly. Ann-Marie MacDonald often writes about child sexual assault in her texts, and while I do think this topic is handled sensitively and not glazed over, it also can be pretty difficult to get through. Still, you can tell that a book that deals with such heavy-handed topics such as these is well-researched, to the point where I wondered if MacDonald had consulted with child psychologists before writing the book. I think that she perfectly captures how an eight year old might react when put into certain situations, so I can definitely tell that she gives care to the subjects and subject matter of her texts.
The book is loosely based off of the trial of Stephen Truscott, who is a man who was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of his classmate Lynne Harper in 1959. If you know anything about the case, then you can definitely see hints of the events within the story. This case stayed with the residents at the base for a long time, and Truscott was only acquitted after being on death row in 2007. This case and the depiction of it in the text is yet another example of MacDonald paying attention to detail and calling back to historical elements within her text. I have to say that I really appreciate an author who depicts Canadian historical fiction, as oftentimes I am pulled to read historical fiction from the US or England. But, I often find that reading MacDonald's books helps me to learn something new about the history of the country I live in. I had no idea about the Truscott case until reading this book, but it did help me in learning more about the Canadian justice system and its failings during times passed.
Like I mentioned before, this book is long. At almost 848 pages, you'll need a minute to read it. And what I will say about MacDonald's books, is that I often don't find that they need to be as long as they are. MacDonald does not write short books, and sometimes I just want to desperately take a pen and edit some scenes down. I just tend to gravitate more towards short books than long books, and I really do often think that books do not have to be as long as they sometimes are. This was my only real issue with the text, but is a significant one because I find the longer the text I read, the more likely I am to get bored or just simply wanting it to be finished already. So, if you're like me, definitely keep that in mind.
Overall, this book was good. I found it for free at a rummage sale in the city last summer, and I'm glad that I picked it up. It's interesting to read up on what Canada was up to during the Cold War, as well as to educate myself on important trials of the 1960's. However, definitely do practice self-care when reading such a text, and don't feel like you have to push through if it's too uncomfortable. MacDonald tends to not hold back, and this text was no exception.
Have you read The Way the Crow Flies? What did you think?
(I'm going on vacation for a week, so I'll see you guys at the beginning of December!)
Emily @ Paperback Princess