Janey's Girl

by Gayle Friesen,
224 pages,
ISBN: 1550744615

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Children`s Books
by Allison Sutherland

First-time authors of children's and teenagers' books have a heartbreaking time ahead of them. They are in competition not only with the new books of the season, but with Charlotte's Web, Treasure Island, Kevin Major's Hold Fast, and S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders. The adults who bridge the gap between young readers and books often circle new arrivals warily. We are all too aware of how brief is the time children will have to read books. We want that time to be spent as joyfully as possible, not wasted on the second-rate. There is no need to circle around Janey's Girl. The writing of Friesen, a first-timer, stands up to the best of the standard works. It is reminiscent of Sharon Creech's award-winning Walk Two Moons, except, I believe, rather better written. No one need have qualms about pushing it on as many youngsters as possible.

Claire and her mother, Janey, are visiting the rural British Columbia community that Janey left fifteen years before, single, pregnant, and passionately ambitious to move into a wider world. While Janey struggles to come to terms with her past, Claire, an inner-city innocent, endeavours to make her way in a society as alien to her as anything on Star Trek.

The book shimmers with delights. Characters like Claire's grandmother, or the handsome lad from the next farm, or the local shopkeeper, or Janey's impregnator and his small son-in fact all the inhabitants of this new world-pulse with reality. The strongest character, Janey's father, has been dead for a year when the novel opens; Friesen creates an unforgettable figure of deep love and rule-bound rectitude. The developing relationship between Claire and the lad is hilarious with its misunderstandings, erotic undercurrents, and dialogue witty with the humour that intelligent adolescents use so well. Best of all is the tension between the Toronto standards, expectations, and values of Claire and her mother and those of a rural society. Both women are powerful individuals and of course the usual mother-daughter antagonisms are flying around. To her mother's dismay, Claire opts into activities like church attendance. Janey has battled hard to free herself from organized religion-a prison, to her mind-and Claire muses, "The thought of going to church as an act of rebellion strikes me as a bit funny." The reader realizes that curfew-breaking or pot-smoking would bother poor Janey a lot less.

One of the saddest phenomena in literature for young people is the way a high-quality novel can slip away and be forgotten yet much lesser achievements end up appearing on one reading list after another. This possibility is very strong when it is the author's first book. Let's hope that Janey's Girl resists oblivion for many readers to come. 


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