Flying Geese

by Barbara Haworth-Attard
192 pages,
ISBN: 0006485731

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Children's Books
by Hardley Dyer

Margaret Brown's life is falling to pieces. After her father is injured in an accident, her family is forced to abandon their Saskatchewan farm and move to London, Ontario. To make matters worse, her older brother is off to fight in World War I and there's a new baby on the way.

Moving from "Country life" to "City life" is a difficult adjustment for the entire family, especially as Mr. Brown struggles to find work. Margaret, awkward and outspoken, finds comfort in her memories. She becomes determined that when she finishes stitching her Flying Geese Quilt, guided by the instructions that she clearly remembers her late grandmother giving her, the family will return to Saskatchewan. In the meantime, support comes from two unlikely sources¨a wild and abused girl named Jean and the Browns' cantankerous landlady Mrs. Ferguson.

Haworth-Attard's portrait of 1915 London, Ontario, is vivid and credible. Historic details enhance the story without cluttering down the crisp, pleasing prose or romanticising the past. The very real danger of war contrasts with the excitement its glorified mission, culminating in a cameo appearance by real-life suffragist Nellie McClung. At the point of her lively speech about women's war-time roles ("Men make wounds and women bind them up"), the war theme threatens to nudge out the family drama at the heart of the novel. In the end, however, this is Margaret's story, at its best in its portrayal of the daily misery of being cold, hungry and constantly out of step. Haworth-Attard is also a skilled quilter herself and has included instructions for making a Flying Geese quilt.

Margaret's run-ins with Mrs. Ferguson provide both conflict and comic relief, though the similarity here to other fictional portraits of cantankerous landladies rob it of making any real impact. Similarly, Jean, while colourful, has an all-too-clear literary function for the experienced reader. Most will forgive the devices, but one wonders if such a skilled writer couldn't have given convention more of a twist. Flying Geese is, nevertheless, an excellent representation of life on the home front and a satisfying read. ˛


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