With every novel, Martha Brooks pushes the boundaries of Young Adult fiction a little bit harder, a little bit further. She does it ever so quietly¨perhaps hoping that we'll get so embroiled in the lives of her characters that we won't notice what's different about her approach this time or where it is that she's taking us. Part of the trick is that she keeps delicately exploring that same little corner of southwest Manitoba which she's called her own in novels as different as Two Moons in August, Bone Dance and Being with Henry and those marvellous short story collections, Paradise CafT and Traveling On Into the Light. Granted, it's never the very same place but the sense of it is at the heart of all of her fictions. It's Heron Lake where 83-year-old Henry Olsen's old friend Merry has a cottage and where 17-year-old Laker Wyatt discovers just who he really is; it's that burial mound near Fatback Lake where Alexandra Sinclair and Lonny LaFreniere connect body and soul. And in True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, it's Pembina Falls where like an ill wind Noreen Stall sweeps into the lives of its denizens just like the furious July thunderstorm in which she's just been run off the road. Noreen is herself running, from all the mistakes she's made, in the truck that she's stolen¨another mistake¨from her erstwhile boyfriend, Wesley Cuthand, along with nearly seven hundred dollars, his unborn child and his heart. Little surprise then that it's one of the contenders for this year's Governor General's Awards.
What makes True Confessions of a Heartless Girl such a unique experience is that Brooks doesn't just tell us Noreen's story, though Noreen is undoubtedly the eye of the storm that comes crashing through Pembina Lake. Her marvellous true confessions of her unforgivable Deadly Sins (Pride at age 12, Lust at 14, Sloth at 15, Anger at 16 and Covetousness at 17), which make up the second part of the book, give us most of the background that we need to understand why Noreen is where she is.
But what of lost and desperately lonely Lynda Bradley, trapped in Pembina Lake, stuck running the Molly Thorvaldson CafT which she absolutely hates and trying her best to make sure that her son, Seth, has the best life a child can? What of those two old crones, Dolores Harper, the Oldest First Nations Waitress in Manitoba, and Mary Reed. Fast friends for more decades than either cares to remember, their friendship just isn't what it used to be. Dolores, for one, isn't sure why. Sitting and playing penny poker, filling their evenings with gossip about Lynda, Del and now Noreen and Wesley, both are haunted by secrets neither is yet quite comfortable sharing with the other? A dark and painful secret lies behind the overwhelming grief that has for decades torn apart the life of bachelor poet and farmer Del Armstrong, who is deeply in love with Lynda but doesn't know how to tell her; the harder he tries to look after her and Seth, the more awkward he feels. Is he destined to die brokenhearted? In the very way that life itself works, the various and sundry pieces are all there, we just have to figure out how they do or don't fit. It's the multiple voices and visions that Brooks offers us in True Confessions that allow us to really feel as if we're interacting with her characters, not just watching what's happening in their lives. She gives us a taste of the heartbeat that is Pembina Lake, a rare and wonderful gift.
True Confessions of a Heartless Girl is a book that should have been nominated in both the category of Children's Literature and the Adult Fiction category for this year's Governor General's Award. Share this book with old readers, and younger ones too. You won't be sorry. It'll become one of those literary experiences that you'll truly savour .