by Anne Cimon
As I began to read award-winning poet and children's author, Lynne Kositsky's Claire by Moonlight, a story set in 1755, during the expulsion of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia, I was reminded how many of their descendants had resettled in Louisiana, an American state Hurricane Katrina had just devastated. Once again people had to leave their homes with nothing but their clothes on their backs, and find, however temporarily, a new place to live.
This ninth novel by Kositsky, an author who has received many awards and honors for her writings (Society of School Librarians Honor Book, and the Raven Award among others), is a touching dramatisation of one teenage girl's ordeal when the British take over her family's land and evacuate Grand PrT, the village where her roots are. Claire Richard is a pretty and feisty fifteen-year-old, a romantic who has her eye on a young British soldier named Sam Douglass. Throughout Claire's peripatetic story, she retains a strong sense of her identity, and often repeats in her diary that she is not French from France, as some might think, but Acadian French, which is very different. She doesn't speak English, but this doesn't hinder communication with the green-eyed Sam, who is part French and conflicted in his loyalties. Claire falls for this unlikely suitor, after he risks his life to save her cat, Chou-Chou, from a fire that destroys the family's farm.
Kositsky is adept and confident at portraying teenage girls, for she has done so in several other books, including Rachel : A Mighty Big Imagining in the popular Our Canadian Girl Series. Claire Richard is portrayed as mature for her age, as she has had to be a parent to her own mother, who is flirtatious with men, and generally incapable of taking care of her younger children, Marie-Joseph, and Jean, who is deaf and blind. Claire has taken up this role, and can't look to her father for help as he is weak-willed, and eventually disappears when the British soldiers invade the village. Jacques, her older brother, helps with the farm, and after the fire, fights the British. He warns Claire against his enemy, Sam Douglass.
What troubles Claire is the possibility that Sam Douglass is a spy. The novel's theme, which is about trust and faith, is well developed. Claire is a devout Catholic girl, who is grateful to have her precious amethyst rosary when she escapes the village with her sister and brother. But she isn't perfect; she steals paper and a pen, when she's living in the house of the Dunns, a rich family in Massachusetts who take her in as a servant. As a child in Grand-PrT, Claire had the privilege to be educated by the village priest, and writing down her thoughts in a journal is a vital way for her to cope through the numerous crises that mar her life.
Although she knows it is wrong to steal, her need to write is an impulse too strong to repress. This humanity defines Claire throughout the novel, and teenage girls will be able to sympathize with her passionate nature. Even though she is courted by the rich young man Jacob, who saved her from a sinking ship, and took her to his sister's home in Massachusetts, she continues to long to be reunited with Sam Douglass, and find out if he is sincere in his love for her.
Kosistsky explains in her Afterword that she has simplified the historical facts about the Acadian expulsion from Canada to the United States to make the story easier to read. The author hopes that this vivid novel will stimulate young people to learn more about Acadia and Canadian history in general.